Opinion: Danger signs but never underestimate John Key

Monday 22 Feb 2016 12:02 p.m.

John Key was booed heavily and driven off stage when he made an appearance at the Big Gay Out (Getty)

John Key was booed heavily and driven off stage when he made an appearance at the Big Gay Out (Getty)

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By Patrick Gower

John Key has been hit by the previously unthinkable three times this year -- booed loudly in public twice, and targeted by a dangerous internal leak.

There is no doubt the Prime Minister is experiencing a more visceral hatred than ever before this year.

He was booed by a big section of the crowd at the Auckland Nines -- that was a shock.

Then a rowdy crew drove him off the stage at the Big Gay Out -- another surprise.

And finally, an enemy within National's inner sanctum leaked confidential emails about the flag change to damage him and the campaign   that was unprecedented.

It's this kind of thing that's got many of his critics saying "it's over for Key".

But the Prime Minister is also capable of pulling off the previously unthinkable too, such as the deal he got out of Malcolm Turnbull for Kiwis in Australia.

It was a symbolic response to his critics, effectively John Key saying "it ain't over".

Somehow John Key got Australia to give up some of its rights in a global environment where almost all sovereign nations are closing doors.

The deal was a reminder of how the Prime Minister is still driven by success and, frankly, is a frighteningly good politician who knows how to get results.

The same goes with not attending Waitangi -- another reminder of how the Prime Minister can be ruthless when it comes to making popular calls.

It was a mercenary call, the political calculus being that whatever the criticism from the haters it was always going to poll well with those that like him.

It's calls like this that mean despite all the hate in the air this year there still isn't any real dent appearing in John Key or National's popularity.

What is happening is that haters are hating John Key even more. The TPP has been a rallying point, but it is deeper than that. The haters feel enabled and emboldened. They are prepared to boo him, or, in the case of the internal enemy (or enemies), leak against him

It appears John Key's popularity has polarised -- the likers still like him, just not as much, and the haters hate him more than ever.

Helen Clark became more polarising as time went on, and John Key will have to deal with a new-found disrespect.

It will cause the Prime Minister some problems, like with the flag campaign. It has become politicised and polarised, and the people that don't like him have decided they don't like flag change.

But here's the point: hate won't stop John Key.

Hate won't stop him from getting deals out of Malcolm Turnbull, it won't stop him from making big populist calls like not going to Waitangi.

Anyone who thinks that hate and dislike will stop John Key from being Prime Minister is underestimating him.

The Prime Minister may have to adjust to the hate, taking it as part of the job, but as long as he keeps making gains and keeps just enough likers liking him, well -- "it ain't over".

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