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John Key

John Key served a parliamentary apprenticeship of just six years before becoming prime minister. The state house kid who dreamed of making millions and of becoming PM, Key achieved both goals and went on to win three elections. 

In the mid-1980s, after graduating from Canterbury with a commerce degree, he launched a lucrative international career in investment banking. In 2001 Key returned to New Zealand to enter politics. A year later he was one of National’s few new faces after an election in which it won just 20.9% of the vote. In 2004 Opposition Leader Don Brash, another of the 2002 recruits, promoted Key to deputy and then to finance spokesman. Brash improved National’s poll ratings, but lost the 2005 election and the following year resigned under pressure, clearing the way for Key.

Elected in November 2008, during a deepening international recession, Key formed confidence-and-supply agreements with the ACT, United Future and Maori parties and the following year signed a memorandum of understanding with the Greens. National accepted many of the Labour-led government’s initiatives but in 2009 reintroduced titular honours. Despite the challenges of the global recession and the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes, Key led National to comfortable victories in the 2011 and 2014 elections, again forming governments with the support of the ACT, United Future and Maori parties.

His three election triumphs, skilful political management and enduring personal popularity made Key one of New Zealand's most successful modern PMs. He was disappointed, however, in his attempts to change New Zealand's flag, with voters backing the current flag in a two-part referendum in 2015-16. By the time he announced he was stepping down in early December 2016, Key had become our eighth longest-serving PM. He subsequently became a company director and was knighted in the 2017 Queen's Birthday Honours.

By Gavin McLean

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John Key, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated