The ablation of John Philip Key

A recent article by the journalist Rachel Stewart – where she throws up her hands at our Prime Minister John Key’s apparent self-immolation during another humiliating appearance on the aptly, crushingly named radio station, The Rock – has finally convinced me that yes, he is deliberately throwing himself under a bus. That bus is his insatiable desire to be loved, the vacuum every fatherless child tries to fill; when Key was six or seven years old, his father left his mother Ruth and she never remarried.

Little is known about George Ernest Key (1914-1969), or little has been made known of what is out there. An article published in the Western Leader in 2010 reveals something of what lies behind the emotional enigma that has many of us wondering about why Key behaves in the way he does and yet manages to surf a remarkable wave of popular approval.

Every child who loses a parent loses a role model, and while that loss may sometimes seem the best result when the modelling given is destructive, or negative, nevertheless the wound and the absence remain. I’m speaking here from experience: an alcoholic father, an emotionally unstable war veteran, a bully who damaged his wife, his children and himself. He was there, but not there and when he was there, often it would have been better if he wasn’t. I’m still cleaning up the mess sixty-plus years on and so are my siblings.

John Key’s problem in my view is different. Like me, a State House kid from Bryndwr, he had – along I assume with his other now publicly invisible siblings – the job of looking after his solo mother, in his case from the age of seven. Where does a boy in that position get his affirmation as a male, how could he – as Jesus said – do the things he saw his father doing? We all need both approval and correction as we mature; these are the two black holes that skew the psychology of our present Prime Minister. He can’t get enough love and he doesn’t know when to stop.

2015-12-21 10.08.28


This is how he gets himself into the spotlight and into trouble: all those nagging unmet needs. Who am I really? How do I know what to do? Where is my role model? Where is my father? Key’s mother Ruth, sanctified in his accounts as a hard working, loyal and dedicated mother certainly had role model credentials as an Austrian Jew, an escapee from certain death in the Holocaust, to have given her youngest a backbone and a sure moral compass.

Yet somehow, her influence has not proved enough to save him from the nagging self-doubt that has him flinging himself at all manner of flaky opportunities for self-promotion. They are proving a self-ablation, eroding every last vestige of dignity as he places his reputation in the hands of vacuous radio hosts, who must secretly enjoy their power over his weakness. The play is Shakespearean in its implications: not who is his nemesis – no Norman Kirk, no David Lange waiting off-stage to dethrone him – but how long will it be before his inner conflicts bring him down?

The uncomfortable corollary of all this is that we, the people – or enough of us, anyway – have been seduced into meeting his needs, mistaking the openness and blokiness for a sense that he is one of us, he belongs to us and we to him. That’s a mistake: Key is aiming higher than the middle class barbie next door, he is aiming at Remuera love and Hawai’i love and Obama love, all the love he can get at the top table. The Richie love, in case you hadn’t noticed: “See how loved I am? See how much I matter?”

We need to stop giving Key what he doesn’t need and give him what he does: a reality check, as any good parent would. Tell him the game is up, invite him to get help and more than anything, get him out of the Beehive, stop him doing so much damage to himself – and to us.





About paparoa

Writer and researcher.
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4 Responses to The ablation of John Philip Key

  1. An interesting assessment. I’ve always felt JK despised his Brydnwr “experience” and only used it to ingratiate himself with “ordinary” folk when he saw there was political gain from it.

    • paparoa says:

      Thanks Don. I’m sure he wants to escape from something, even an existential crisis, if I might ennoble his behaviour by saying so. But people don’t come out nowhere, we are always the sum of our parts, the parts we have learned to play – and can unlearn, if we wish. There is something about his craving for approval that gets a result; my question about us is, what is it? It is more than just “he keeps most of middle NZ happy”. Power is seductive but so is need.

      • I wondered about dusting off my old counsellor’s hat (1976 model) and offering help with attention seeking reduction strategies. His perfomance reminds me of the inability of the NZ electorate (50% of it anyway) who took years to see through and break the seemingly impenetrable right wing arguments of the Business Round Table CEO in the Muldoon era. Can’t recall his name. From Motueka I think.

  2. brownestudy says:

    Hello. The old school motto was Labore et Honoré (Latin? Latin in Greymouth?) I prefer Nils bastardum carborundum. Cheers.

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