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New Zealand's John Key sets out his practical conservatism, emphasising family, school and work

By Tim Montgomerie
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Key John

The international governing politician who David Cameron is closest to is New Zealand's 51 year old, 38th Prime Minister, John Key.

Mr Key is no firebrand, reforming conservative. He prides himself on his pragmatism and after a long period of Labour rule he was re-elected at the end of 2011. His National Party's support increased from his first victory, when it won 44.9%, to 47.3% last November.

Earlier this month Mr Key gave a landscape speech on his political philosophy. In an address to Ausatralia's Menzies Research Centre, in honour of John Howard, he set out his core beliefs.

This included a defence of the role that government plays in society. Drawing on his personal experience he said this:

"I was a kid who benefited from both the welfare state and a mother who pushed us to improve ourselves through hard work. My father died when I was young. We had no other family in New Zealand and we had very little money. My mother was on a Widows Benefit for a time, before she started working as a cleaner. The State provided us with somewhere to live, and ensured my mother had food to put on the table when we most needed it. The State also gave me the opportunity to have a good education at the local high school and at university."

We don't hear this sort of thing enough from conservatives. We are not small state fundamentalists and should never risk appearing so. Conservatives are in favour of limited and focused government but some, particularly young, more libertarian co-belligerents allow rhetoric to run away with itself and end up appearing anti-government.

Prime Minister Key then goes on to set out the three themes that I believe are the central tenets of conservatism - family, education and work. Here are his words, first on the importance of parents and teachers...

"My mother made sure I seized that opportunity with both hands. She was a very strong character, and had escaped persecution in Austria before the Second World War. What she gave to my sisters and me was far more valuable than money. Her constant refrain was that, “you get out of life what you put into it”. My early life was therefore a mix of strong influences: a close family; an emphasis on individual responsibility and hard work; first-hand experience of the welfare system; and a realisation of the opportunities that education offers to kids from even the humblest of homes... I have had a successful career in international finance. But I have learned that the most valuable assets in life are those closest to home. As a husband, and as a father of two wonderful children, I can say that families are in my view the most important institution in our society. So I believe in a government that supports families."

...and then of work and government encouraging it...

"I’ve often said that you can measure a society by how it looks after its most vulnerable. Yet you can also measure a society by how many vulnerable people it creates – people who are able to work, yet end up depending for long periods on the State. I believe in a government that supports people’s hard work and enterprise, and encourages them to set high aspirations... The National Party has also always understood that businesses large and small create jobs and prosperity... Jobs are only created when business owners have the confidence to invest their own money to expand what they are doing or to start something new. Giving businesses that confidence is the most important thing the Government can do to ensure people have jobs, and that those jobs are sustainable and well-paid."

Read the full speech.


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