Matthew Hooton has been calling on John Key to step down for a while now. What appeared to begin as commentary is now looking more like a campaign. As far as I’ve seen he’s second only to Cameron Slater (except for the left wing noise over the past seven years) in the “Key must go” camp .
When a professional lobbyist seems to be running a campaign then it’s fair to wonder why.
Hooton is Managing Director of Exceltium. On the company website his profile includes:
Matthew Hooton is New Zealand’s leading public affairs strategist and political commentator. He has over 20 years’ experience in political and corporate communications, working for the New Zealand Government and some of the country’s most influential companies.
He maintains excellent connections with senior levels of all of New Zealand’s main political parties, and with the senior staff of the National, Labour, Green, Maori and ACT parties.
Matthew has a close relationship with many New Zealand Ministers and Members of Parliament, and is well known in political circles and by the public as a political commentator on both Radio New Zealand and RadioLive, and as a columnist for the National Business Review.
Presumably from one of those radio slots yesterday @Bryce_Edwards tweeted some comments from Hooton:
Hooton says Key has “jumped the shark” with Panda policy; created new panda political cliché for PM who have passed their use-by date
Hooton says Key has created new political cliché for PMs who have passed their use-by date: “Sorry, mate, but you’ve cuddled the panda.”
“Hooton”: You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”
Hooton on PM: “humiliation in the flag referendum next year may provide him with a suitable pretext to step down. He should take it”.
On it’s own this may not seem like much but it’s a continuation of a meme from Hooton. Has he had enough of Key? Or is this a paid for campaign?
This is just a continuation from Hooton. The panda story was a bit of a lame media blip last week. On Friday in NBR’s Spotlight on Wellington:
At a time Kiwis are increasingly concerned about house prices and rising unemployment, notes Matthew Hooton in his Weekly Hit column, John Key has bizarrely chosen to fixate on procuring pandas for Wellington Zoo.
It’s another indication that Mr Key has lost interest in being prime minister of New Zealand, he argues; another example of how he prefers pandering to public sentiment over grappling with serious policy issues. Indeed, the PM may well have just coined a new idiom, whereby a politician who is past their use-by-date will be described as having “cuddled the panda.”
From Hooton’s Weekly Hit a week before that:
Make no mistake: as long as National looks likely to win the next election, John Key will remain leader of the party. But his high water mark is now well behind us.
For the serious end of the business community, the tide went out on Mr Key long ago, when they realised he had no interest in a reform agenda and that his words, public or private, lacked the necessary relationship to government decisions to be reliable inputs for business ones.
The sense of a government adamant for drift has now infected even the most loyal National Party donors and members. The prime minister is not helping. Where before Mr Key would privately brief party members on his take on the global economy and New Zealand’s response to it, his focus is now almost entirely on the flag referendum and his own international relationships.
Back to this week, Hooton on a regular slot on Radio NZ:
So if we thought that our CER agreement was of the same quality as the European Union’s free trade and labour agreements we were wrong all along, or at least since the Abbot Government made this change that John Key let’s face it, didn’t know about did he because he was too preoccupied with pandas and the flag.
The Prime Minister really and truly spent all last week talking about pandas and other nonsense and deciding how many flags would be on the ballot paper, um he needs to get serious about his job…
Kathryn Ryan: Now ah captain’s calls. Speaking of the former Australian Prime Minister you wanted to discuss captain’s calls this week. Are you being a bit mischievous Matthew?
Mike Williams: Of course he is.
Matthew Hooton: No, no, I just, the Prime Minister has been making captain’s calls, and the one about the whole flag referendum is something that was never discussed by the National Party or by the National Party Caucus or even really the Cabinet except in a formal sense…
It must have been discussed in a formal sense, it was announced as National Party policy early last year with an obvious eye to the election.
…and we’ve got this flag debate adding the fifth flag was a captain’s call by John Key, there’s the panda issue.
How many times has he targeted Key over the flag and pandas?
And when we look at when, and I think Prime Ministers do have a right to make captains’s calls, um when they, they’re the leader of the country, and I think the classic one would have been after the 1984 Olympics when Australia managed to get the same number of gold medals as Carl Lewis and half the number of New Zealand um ah Bob Hawke just decided, even though they were under economic restraint, fiscal constraint, he just decided there was going to be an Institute of Sport. And Paul Keating who’s interest was not sport but was reassembling French antique clocks um was just told “you’re going to find the money and we’re going to have an Institute of Sport.
The relevance of that seems dubious, and they are quite different examples anyway. The flag choice was put forward as National Party Policy, was campaigned on during an election, and is being put to the people via public consultation and two referendums. Key hasn’t just decided to change the flag.
And Key made it clear that while he liked the panda idea it was up to Local Government to decide if they wanted to look at it further. He specifically said it wasn’t his call.
Key was only asked about the pandas because “Wellington Deputy Mayor Justin Lester said on Friday that the council was looking to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a business case for the proposal.” Auckland Zoo decided against trying to get pandas, it’s up to Wellington Zoo whether they try or not, not Key.
Jim Bolger did the same with Te Papa. Um Sir Wallace Rowling, Bill Rowling went to the Prime Minister Jim Bolger and says “I’m in charge of Te Papa, we need to build this” and Bolger overrode Ruth Richardson, you can imagine, and said “yes, we’re going to do it”.
That sounds nothing like flags or pandas.
And it seems to me that it is legitimate for the Prime Minister to decide pandas or a flag referendum, but when you do these things you really have to do them properly, and that Institute of Sport in Australia of Bob Hawke’s was fabulously successful and transformed their sporting prow..they’re a sporting superpower as a result.
Te Papa is a wonderful asset thanks to Jim Bolger’s intervention over his Cabinet.
Bolger would have to have gained the support of his Cabinet to do it. He don’t think he was a dictator.
And it seems to me that the problem John Key is running into is not that he is never right to make these calls as the leader of the country…
He still has to get the support of his Cabinet.
…but that it’s just done in such a half arsed manner all the time…
Yes, instead of one man rule it lets people decide by referendum and he lets city councils decide for themselves about zoo decisions.
…and so he blurts out that we should have pandas…
He was asked about it by journalists due to the actions of the Wellington City Council’s proposed business plan.
…or this this flag referendum, as Radio New Zealand online has discovered, the Government is boasting that it’s public engagement, it’s PR budget and I would say this wouldn’t I, is only four million dollars over two years.
Now you can’t engage the public for two million dollars a year. The Warehouse spends seventy million dollars on advertising alone telling us cheap junk from China’s on special…
At probably much less than two million dollars per sale.
…so when the Prime Minister decided to go down the path of changing the flag, which is his prerogative, he really needed to do that properly and he’s failed utterly…
Key hasn’t failed at letting the people decide if we want to change our flag or not.
Did Hooton fail to get any PR business out of the process or something?
That’s the sort of pissy dissing you’d expect to see at The Standard. Talking of which, Hooton comments there sometimes, like:
This issue (along with the panda nonsense, and to a lesser extent the refugees) has driven a wedge between Key and some of his right-wing support base. Not sure if the Greens intended that, but my right wing friends have finally had enough of Key and think it is time for him to go.
Right wing friends? Or clients? A problem with commentators/lobbyists is that it’s rarely clear which hat they are wearing.
Dave_1924 responded to Hooton’s Radio NZ comments:
Matthew Hooton is on a jihadi against John key… god its funny. His time with Mike Williams on nine to Noon this morning was getting a tad ranty for a god 7 odd minutes about Mr Key….
First thing that went through my mind was who is paying his PR firm or what contracts from the government has he missed out on?
Maybe that is unkind, and no accusation against Mr Hooton. But come on people being deported from Aussie for being crims is not high on anyone’s I give a eff list…
That got 13 thumbs up, 0 down so not many right wing friends of Hooton’s there.
Why is Hooton campaigning against Key? Who are his friends? And are they paying for his persistent anti-Key PR?
Or is Hooton just personally pissed off with Key, a bit like Slater?
Whichever, he certainly seems to be in anti-key campaign mode.