As a high-stakes international currency trader, John Key must have had nerves of steel. This quality may be hard to reconcile with his amiable, bloke-next-door image, but it’s undoubtedly there.
We are seeing this side of Key – the big risk-taker who backs his own judgment – in the way he has responded to the smacking referendum.
Key is resolute that Parliament won’t revisit the issue, even in the face of a vote that shows overwhelming support for a law change.
He clearly trusts his own instincts, as he must have learned to do in his days with Merrill Lynch. More timid politicians, unnerved by the display of public wrath, would have capitulated. But Key, clearly, has made the call that it’s a temporary irritation rather than a crisis. He will have assessed the risks, much as he did with currency movements during his trading days, and will be counting on his personal popularity to carry him through unscathed.
He has shown a similar proclivity for politically risky behaviour before – for example, when he ruled out a coalition deal with Winston Peters, and when he courted unpopularity by breaking the 2007 impasse over the Bradford Bill in the first place, a move that many found inexplicable.
You can see why he used to be known on the trading floor as the Smiling Assassin. The term implies callousness and ruthless ambition, but in Key’s case it may simply signify that he’s able to maintain that sunny demeanour even when he’s taking a punt that would turn lesser men’s bowels to liquid.