Political Leaders: Lecture 15


When you think of great political leaders, you may think of John F Kennedy or perhaps even Winston Churchill. These political leaders captivated their countries and the world, there are very few leaders that have that quality.

Our Prime Ministers have changed over the years, they have had to adapt to changing political trends around the world and also the onset of MMP.  In New Zealand there have been a number of great Prime Ministers over the years, but none greater in my opinion than Michael Joseph Savage who was the first Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand.  His policies still affect all New Zealanders today, even though they were passed in the 1930s.  The “welfare state” that we all enjoy as a nation today would not be available if it wasn’t for him.  Dr Michael Bassett explains.

“When I was a small boy, few homes were complete in the working class suburbs of Auckland without a framed, tinted photo of Michael Joseph Savage” (Bassett 1998).

What modern New Zealand Prime Minister has had that sort of impact, Bassett goes on to say

“There he was in the hall next to the crucifix. She picked him down, kissed him, and told me that Savage was the nearest thing to Christ in her life. The photo still hangs by our back door thirty two years later”. (Bassett 1998).

I was lucky enough, this year to have found one of these photos of Michael Joseph Savage, in an antique shop and now he sits on my office wall in the state house that his welfare state built.  The early Prime Ministers all had one thing in common they cared for the people of New Zealand, they didn’t go out of their way to hurt them with radical reforms that have led to poverty and a nation of have and have not’s that we currently live in.

The Prime Ministers of New Zealand have become like the American President, the voting public of New Zealand sadly doesn’t vote for the political party anymore but the leader of the party; this is illustrated by the success of John Key.  The policies and reforms implemented by National party are hurting the majority of the population, but John Keys popularity has never been higher, which in turn drives up the National vote.  How does he do it?  Bryce Edwards explains

“…and, of course, Key’s public perception of being nice, ‘relaxed’, willing to laugh and indulge in humour or down-to-earth behaviour (beer in hand, bbqs, jandals, etc) fit in very nicely with that anti-politician and anti-elite brand.” (Edwards 2011).

Since the 1980s Prime Ministers have been the face of huge radical change in our country, they have been able to sell these changes to the voting public, and we have been stupid enough to believe them.

Prime Ministers have become ‘salesmen’ that’s what their job is, to sell party policy and keep the voting public on side; keep winning elections, and when they fail at that job they get the political knife in the back and replaced.

“A further important role of the Prime Minister is to the chief spokesman for the government. This involves presenting the government’s position on major matters to both Parliament and the media. The prime ministers state-ments are taken by the media to be the authoritative view of government, which gives the prime minister considerable potential power to commit the govern-ment to a course of action even without cabinet approval” (Henderson 2003, 111)

As a nation New Zealanders have let Prime Ministers over the years get away with hurting us by selling us hard economic medicine, to the point now where we expect it

“So Kiwis are more apt to accept hard change, provided they are convinced it’s necessary. And Key has proved able to convince them” (Hartcher 2013)

Who would have thought New Zealanders would be stupid enough to let John Key go on a purge of assets.

“And now Key is speaking the unspeakable. Privatisation of state assets is on the agenda as he pursues a budget surplus in 2014-15.” (Hartcher 2013).

The Prime Minister has always been the face of a political party, but these days it is more of a popularity contest.  The Prime Minister in the MMP environment has to manage not only their own party but often a coalition government, whereas prior to MMP, they only had their own party to manage.


Bassett, Michael. 1998. How Ideal was the Savage Ideal. September 4th. Accessed April 24th, 2014. http://www.michaelbassett.co.nz/article_savage.htm.

Edwards, Bryce. 2011. NZ POLITICS DAILY: Why is John Key so popular? July 4th. Accessed April 26th, 2014. http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/nz-politics-daily-why-john-key-so-popular-96508.

Hartcher, Peter. 2013. NZ shows trust is key to popularity. March 26th. Accessed April 27th, 2014. http://www.smh.com.au/comment/nz-shows-trust-is-key-to-popularity-20130325-2gqad.html.

Henderson, John. 2003. “The Prime Minister: Powers and Personality.” In New Zealand Government and Politics Third Edition, by Raymond Miller, 111. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s