John Key may not be our first celebrity Prime Minister, David Lange may actually have that honor. Lange's wit meant that journalists turned up in droves to his press conferences to be entertained...
"Our military forces are an arm of Government, just like the Department of Social Welfare, although less able to inflict widespread harm."
Lange's performance at the Oxford Union Debate made international headlines after he brilliantly won the argument against the use of nuclear weapons, he was also great supporter of Rugby League and enjoyed driving racing cars.
John Key is known to enjoy a joke and is supposed to be good company but his celebrity status has been built more on who he is seen with. Key has been photographed with the Queen, with Hollywood moguls and filmstars, with Allblacks and playing golf with Barack Obama. He isn't necessarily that well known overseas, but in New Zealand he is said by some to have a cult like following.
On his return from his many overseas trips Key often talks about who he managed to meet and how well he got on with them, he provides little detail on what he achieved for New Zealand. When asked if he will make a stand regarding human rights abuses in places like Sri Lanka it is clear that economics dominates his thinking. Clearly human rights are of little consequence to Key and when a New Zealander was killed by a US drone he shrugged it off and came out strongly in support of the attacks.
Key's relationship with Hollywood moguls demonstrated an eagerness to please, laws were changed and subsidies paid to win favour with Warner Bros and he placed government departments at their disposal. Key denies any part in the Kim Dotcom raid but his connections and relationships with key players in the US and here are undeniable and his memory lapses added fuel to conspiracy theories.
The US has become increasingly isolated since the mess made of the invasion of Iraq. The reasons for the invasion have long been debunked and despite the cost and death toll (190,000 lives and $2.2 trillion) the country is still struggling to restore the damage to infrastructure and gain any sense of unity. The only ones that profited from the war were likes of Halburton and other politically linked companies who were able to rort the system for their own ends.
Despite his efforts Obama has struggled to rebuild the US relationship with Europe, especially so after the Snowden revelations that the US had been deliberately spying on allied leaders. The US needs the support of countries that have international credibility and it appears that New Zealand, via John Key, may be one to provide that. Key enjoys a relationship with the President of the United States beyond anything of any previous Prime Minister. He plays golf with him during his holidays and in a recent visit was provided with a private tour of the Whitehouse gardens.
While once New Zealand leaders were prepared to make a stand on points of principle against major powers, this is no longer the case. New Zealand has opted out of the Kyoto targets to join the worlds worst polluters and we are now deeply involved in supporting the US led Five Eyes spying network. Our armed forces are no longer so heavily committed to peace keeping and will now only be deployed if there is economic advantage.
It appears that John Key has been cleverly groomed and flattered by the US to become a willing supporter for any future action in Iraq. He got special time with US spy and military heads and both the President and Secretary of State in a way that few leaders would. Our clean green image remains (although it is hardly based on reality now) and our reputation as a nuclear free, independent nation probably still exists as the memories of Lange's Oxford performance linger. We are a useful ally despite our size (and our paltry armed forces) as we provide credibility and influence for those countries who still regard us as we once were. Obama and John Kerry were delighted to announce during Key's visit that New Zealand stands with them regarding their plans for Iraq (Savage, Kirk and Lange must be rolling in their graves).
We can hardly claim to be independent with our foreign policy any longer if we have so determinedly thrown our hat in with the US and I wonder how we are now perceived as we chase a place on the UN Security Council. It appears that expensive schmoozing is now having to be deployed to buy our way in rather than just using our past reputation as responsible and independent global citizens.