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12 Lessons John Key Could Teach Tony Abbott

Despite multiple controversies, New Zealand's PM is the most popular leader in the western world. What is his secret?

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At first glance, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and his New Zealand counterpart John Key could be seen as two PMs in a pod.

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Both are conservative prime ministers, both promised a "strong and stable government" and both broke promises to the electorate in their first term.

They support similar policies too, like privatisation and installing mass surveillance of metadata. John Key even raised the GST.

And look, they're both a bit weird.

Tony Abbott got into loads of trouble for winking during an interview with an elderly sex-worker and John Key has had to apologise for pulling the ponytail of a waitress.

But Key will probably come out of the latest controversy relatively unscathed. Can you imagine if Tony Abbott pulled a waitress's hair? There'd be riots in the streets. People would march on Capital Hill. We'd all wear ponytails in support. And there'd definitely be a hashtag.

And yet, Key is enjoying his third term in office, with his National Party amazingly increasing its vote four elections in a row.

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He's been called "the most popular leader in the western world" and has been dubbed "Teflon John" for his ability to brush off multiple controversies.

Across the Tasman, Tony Abbott is struggling through his first term in office with a low approval rating as he stumbles from one embarrassing gaffe to another.


John Key is so popular that he made his own captain's call to reinstate knights and dames in 2009 AND bestowed the country's highest honour on Prince Philip and everyone was TOTALLY COOL with it.

No one called him out of touch with the electorate, no one tried to oust him as leader, no one even changed their Twitter name to Lord or Dame. They all just said "k cool bro" and went on with their lives as if nothing had happened!!!!

It was such a non-issue that Australia's outrage at Tony Abbott's decision was completely baffling to the NZ media, who wondered if all Australians were "rabid republicans".

So what lessons can Phony Tony learn from Teflon John?

1. Have a "rock star economy"

@MacFinlay via

Global bank HSBC has called New Zealand a "rock star economy", with strong growth, construction booms and non-existent inflation. All things John Key and his party can take credit for.

Even better, the NZ dollar is approaching parity with Australia for the first time since 1984. The NZ media says "it sends a strong signal to Kiwis that after years of falling behind the big guy across the ditch we are catching up."

FYI, this photo of the PM posing like a gangster with a bottle of Moet was posted on his son Max's Facebook page and soon turned into a well-meaning meme. Yet when Tony Abbott skolled a beer, it spawned think-pieces about the problem with Australia's macho drinking culture.

2. Get stuff done

@mcquillanatorz /

Despite belonging to a centre-right party, John Key has made some impressive decisions on progressive and environmental issues. He oversaw the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013, and set the ambitious 50% target for reduction in emissions.

Passing legislation that most people in your country are crying out for sounds like a no-brainer doesn't it?

3. Embrace your inner (and outer) dork


In 2011, John Key modelled the outfit to be worn by volunteers at the Rugby World Cup with a spontaneous sashay down the catwalk. It's like watching your dad try on a shirt he got for his birthday.

John Key knows he's never going to be the coolest guy in the room and he doesn't try to be. The lesson? Stop trying to be macho, stop taking yourself too seriously, and people will like you for it.


4. Embrace Your Inner Dork Part II (The Dorkening)

View this video on YouTube

When John Key presented the 2011 Rugby World Cup trophy, everything went terribly wrong. Key went in to a handshake with All Black captain Richie McCaw at the same time as the International Rugby Board chairman and missed, so he ends up gently stroking the outside of both mens hands.


5. Just chillax

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Another Kiwi nickname for their PM is "Low Key", because he's quiet and unassuming.

When pressed on difficult issues in interviews he often uses phrases such as "I'm relaxed about that" or "I'm not concerned" which makes him seem calm, cool and in control of the interview.


6. Give good duckface

I love our Prime Minister @johnkeypm #duckface #selfie #fieldays2013 #onceinalifetime

It's what the people want.

7. Don't go too hard in opposition

A good politician knows how to transition from a political attack dog in opposition into a real human leading the country. Kinda like being a reverse werewolf.

"There is a part of politics which is really quite ugly," John Key said back in 2008 when he was opposition leader.

"And when you're leader of the opposition you're kind of paid to be a doom-and-gloom merchant".

But many political commentators believe Tony Abbott, one of Australia's most ruthless opposition leaders, has been unable to transform into a prime minister that people can relate to.

"John Key comes across as more personable than Abbott," politics lecturer at Sydney University, Dr Peter Chen, told BuzzFeed News.

"He's affable and genial, very much in the [NSW premier] Mike Baird kind of way."

8. Acknowledge your weaknesses

3 News /

This gif of John Key sucking so hard at using a hammer has been watched more than one million times on imgur since it was posted in March.

But he just laughed it off. "It was a shocker, eh?" the Prime Minister said. "All that proves is I'm never any good at woodwork."

9. Have a good rags to riches story

Phil Walter / Getty Images

John Key is a multi-millionaire, who made his fortune as a currency trader at Merrill Lynch. But his upbringing was tough. His father died when he was young and his mother, a Jewish refugee from Hitler's occupied Austria, worked nights to support her three children.

"New Zealanders are kind-hearted people, and if you make money under your own steam they actually respect that" John Key says.

Save for a taxpayer-funded Delorean, there's not much our politicians can do to make sure they have a good origin story, but it sure does help.


10. Keep your friends close

Phil Walter / Getty Images

John Key is very close with his deputy and finance minister Bill English. The two were once rivals for Nationals leadership, but now have "one of New Zealand's most successful political relationships.

They're so close that key had to play down their relationship in an interview. ‘‘Yeah, we do things, but we don’t spend every weekend hanging out together" Key said.

John and Bill, Kevin and Julia, Tony and Malcolm. BFF's for life.

11. Take the piss

John Key was invited to a Young Nats formal event and this is what he did. Excellent.

12. Take over from an unpopular leader

Phil Walter / Getty Images

When John Key became leader of the Nationals, he took the place of Don Brash, who defected to the more conservative ACT party.

Dr Chen says Key comes across as much more statesmanlike compared to Brash.

"Brash stoked the race card and tried to push the Nationals further to the right" says Chen.

"John Key was his number two, but he benefits by comparison. He's not divisive and he came into office when Labor had run out of puff."

Could Australia ever see a statesmanlike, popular, more moderate politician taking over party leadership from a hard-line, unpopular, divisive leader?