Insight into NZ’s head honcho

John Key: Portrait of a Prime Minister,
by John Roughan (Penguin, RRP $38):

There’s no doubt that Prime Minister John Key is a polarising figure in New Zealand politics.

There really seems to be no middle ground: people either love him or they hate him, which means it’s unlikely he’ll be one of our “forgotten PMs” like Bill Rowling or Jim Bolger – both of whom many Kiwis would struggle to pick out in a lineup.

Key, the youngest of three children, didn’t come from a wealthy or privileged background: he grew up in a state house in Christchurch, raised by his mother after his war veteran father died when Key was just eight years old.

His economics teacher might not have been expecting big things from him, but he made his fortune (literally) in the world of currency trading before trading in one highly successful career for another, making the move to politics in 2002. And just six years after entering Parliament, Key took over the top job, being elected as our 38th Prime Minister in 2008.

Love him or hate him, Key has had the reins of the country during a tumultuous time: dealing with the fallout after the particularly messy economy of the 1980s and 1990s (lets not forget Rogernomics), the costly Canterbury quake and a global financial crisis that caused a lot of pain in a lot of places.

I’m sure there are plenty of not-so-flattering anectodes and tales that could have been included in this unauthorised biography, just as there would be for any book about the life of any other politician, but it’s clear that the author is a bit of a fan. And that’s fine: Brian Edwards wrote a pretty decent biography of Helen Clark during her time as our PM (Helen, Portrait of a Prime Minister) and it was pretty clear he was a fan, too. The unbiased ins-and-outs of their times as leader should be recorded by an unbiased media (not that I’m sure such a thing exists any more), these types of book are more about fleshing out the details of who they are, so we can perhaps see them more as people rather than politicians.

John Roughan’s book doesn’t claim to be an encyclopaedic account of every political move made by Key, and it’s actually quite interesting getting a little more insight into the early life of the man who now runs our country

He comes across as a bloke who doesn’t mind laughing at himself, and who has a clear focus on what he wants to do and how to do it. This can come across as either sheer single-mindedness or as a total lack of curiosity about anything around him that doesn’t directly relate to the goal he currently has in mind. And while that is probably infuriating to some, it is also a little refreshing.

As is the whole “laughing at himself” thing.

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