Emmanuel Macron

John Key was Emmanuel Macron before it was cool

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While everyone was gushing about how unique and innovative new French President Emmanuel Macron's approach to politics was, and contrasted it to the protectionist currents flowing through Britain and the U.S., I noticed something very familiar about Macorn's personal style and policy platform - it was fundamentally the same as John Key's.

At an initial glance the two might not seem to have much in common other than a background that traversed finance (Key more so than Macron) and a natural charisma both in front of the camera and face-to-face with people.

That changes when you start to look at the political situations when each rose to power. Both Key and Macron faced a political situation where a gap had been created between right and left wing parties. For Key, Don Brash had taken National sharply to the right through a combination of aggressive economic liberalisation, social conservatism, and that Orwea speech that badly inflamed race relations. Helen Clark would, from 2004 to 2008, take Labour down a much more left wing path via economic intervention and income redistribution such as Working for Families and KiwiSaver, but characterised by the Labour-led Government going on a spending splurge between 2005 and 2008.

Macron faced a similar situation with François Hollande taking the Socialists further to the left, highlighted best by his plan to increase the top tax rate on France's wealthiest individuals to 75%, and the Republicans losing out to Marine Le Pen and the ultra-right wing National Front.

From here both leaders aggressively claimed the centre ground. Key did it by dragging the National Party there, with the colourful story that one of the first things he did was utterly crushing any plans or talk of repealing New Zealand's nuclear free legislation, an idea that had apparently been floated under Brash. Key would go on to adopt a policy platform that balanced fiscal conservatism, notably through tax cuts, employment law reform, controlling government spending, and partial privatisation of some government owned assets, with a social liberal approach including support for civil unions, same sex marriage, maintaining Working for Families, creating a successful detente with the Māori Party, and promoting an open economy through new and expanded free trade deals, and relatively open immigration settings. He also, unsuccessfully, championed changing New Zealand's flag, a cause usually associated with New Zealand's progressive movement and one that put him directly at odds with the National Party's conservative wing.

Key's time as Prime Minister was widely noted for not only being centrist, but also almost veering into Labour's centre-left wing, with large government building programmes and increasing benefit rates for the first time in 43 years being hailed as squeezing Labour out of the centre ground.

Macron took a slightly different approach. Instead of claiming leadership of the Socialists and doing what Key did and pulling them back to the centre, he seized on the gulf to ultimately create his own party - En Marche! - and effectively pushed both the Socialists and Republicans out of the centre ground.

The policies Macron and En Marche! campaigned on also bare a striking similarity to those of Key and the National-led Government. Macron is pro-European Union, he's in favour of free trade, he's largely in favour of open immigration through the EU, he's been France's leading advocate for the El Khormi labour reform laws, and he campaigned on reducing corporate and wealth taxes. Like Key, Macron is also a social liberal and on environmental issues shares a similar pragmatism, with both advocating a pragmatic and gradual switch towards a more sustainable economy than Green movements in their country would like.

Where Macron and Key may well differ over time is that Macron's popularity has already taken a major hit that Key's never did. In pushing through the badly necessary El Khormi labour reform laws through France's National Assembly and Senate, Macron has expended a significant amount of his political capital. Key was much more reserved in spending his political capital, and took a much slower and more incremental approach to implementing the reforms that he did to New Zealand's economy.

That being said, Macron does face a very different political system to Key. The division and balance of power in France is such that a President can be very powerful, or utterly useless, depending on their control of the National Assembly and Senate. Macron has been fortunate that En Marche! secured a decent majority in the National Assembly, and the Socialists and Republicans in the Senate are so terrified of the En Marche! machine consuming them that they've acquiescenced to Macron's policy platform so far. Macron potentially doesn't necessarily have the luxury of time that Key had to take his time with reforms.