Bryce Edwards: Bet on Key for a fourth term

John Key (AAP)
John Key (AAP)

Despite a string of damaging headlines over the past 12 months, Prime Minister John Key is looking on track to win a historic fourth term, says political commentator Bryce Edwards.

The Northland by-election, the housing crisis, the Serco saga, the Saudi sheep controversy, the botched health and safety reforms, the lacklustre flag shortlist, ponytail-gate and the slow response to the Syria refugee crisis – none of it seems to be denting his popularity, a year into National's third term.

Two polls last month put National on about 50 percent, above what they achieved at last year's general election.

Dr Edwards says unlike Labour's Helen Clark, there doesn't seem to be any hint of arrogance creeping into Mr Key's handling of the various scandals that have arisen since Dirty Politics.

"He still has the right instincts in the end in terms of middle New Zealand, that I don't think Helen Clark had in her third term," Dr Edwards said on the Paul Henry programme this morning.

Yesterday Mr Key revealed New Zealand's contribution to helping ease the Syrian refugee crisis, which although short of what groups like Amnesty International wanted, was generous enough to see Labour withdraw its own Bill to up the quota. Dr Edwards says Mr Key was uncharacteristically slow, but got there in the end.

"In the end he's come out with the right package, getting the big tick from the public. It's a pretty good headline – 750 Syrian refugees – so it does look like he's delivered in the end. It appeases some of the critics, it snookers the Opposition, frankly, and middle New Zealand – which is what Key's concerned with – I think will now have their discomfort dealt with."

The package itself is "a bit woeful", says Dr Edwards, but "plays to the middle ground".

"I think there is a bit of worry there, because he was so slow in reacting. It looked like he was not doing so out of any conviction or principle – he was doing so because he was being shamed into doing so."

New Zealand Governments rarely last more than three terms – experience turns into arrogance, at least in the public's view, in a process dubbed 'third term-itis'. Dr Edwards says there are signs it could be starting to foment in National, but Mr Key's managed to stave it off so far.

"He has had more scandals and minor sort of trivial gaffes he's had to deal with over the last 12 months than Clark did in her third term, that first year, but none of it has really affected him. He is astonishingly popular," says Dr Edwards.

He puts this down to the Government's handling of the global financial crisis and the party's ongoing rejuvenation – 14 National MPs stood down at last year's election, and 15 new ones were elected.

Dr Edwards has no doubt Mr Key is eyeing up a fourth term.

"Ambition can be a very powerful thing. It's the holy grail of the National Party – getting a fourth term in Government, and it would mean Key would beat the record of Holyoake and would be the longest-running National Party Prime Minister. I think he really wants that and he will make sure it happens."

It's two years until the next election. If he had to put money on it, Dr Edwards says he'd bet on Mr Key.

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