John Key's speech today was full of ironies. Like for example the fact that here was a man talking about New Zealand's "underclass" to an audience who had paid $65 a head to chow down on Thai chicken salad and sip wine while making polite dinner conversation about their BMWs and stock portfolios and their latest housing market windfall to their rich friends. Or the fact that it was his own party which created that underclass with its savage spending cuts to welfare and state services in the early 90's, and that the current government has made enormous progress in shrinking it. Or indeed that the reason that his "poor boy made good" story was possible was because welfare levels were much higher in the 70's, and the state services which provide the opportunity vital to upward social mobility much more accessible to the poor than they are today.
Meanwhile, some are welcoming the speech as a sign that National has shifted to the centre. IMHO, this is a mistake. Because when you strip away the warm fuzzies and "compassionate conservative" talk of "opportunity" and "a fair go", Key is advocating exactly the same tired policies National was pushing in the 90's - and indeed the same policies Don Brash was pushing this time last year. Work for Dole, whose only effect is to stop people moving off benefits into real jobs. Privatising welfare, which led to underfunding and stretched social services. Demonising the poor, so that the rich don't have to feel guilty about the resulting mess, because "it's all their own fault". Any minute now, he'll be bringing back Jenny Shipley's Code of Family and Social Responsibility as well.
Key's "compassionate conservatism" isn't. Instead its the same old National beneficiary-bashing, sugar-coated in the hope that middle class voters will swallow it this time. Which suggests immediately the left's slogan for the next election: "don't get fooled again".