My respect for John Key just went up another notch. I knew he was a canny politician, from his performance over The Hobbit. But now I'm also inclined to respect him as a manager.
Throughout the Pike River disaster, Our Leader has kept a conspicuously low profile. (It helps that he's been out of the country most of the time.) Not for him the theatrics of Chile's President Pinera, who practically ran his administration from the site for the duration, or even President Obama during the Deepwater Horizon fiasco. No, Key was happy to let others take the heat. When the media wanted a politician, what they got was Gerry Brownlee, the charisma-less minister for energy. But most of the time, the face on our screens was a haggard-looking Peter Whittall, CEO of the company.
And Whittall did an outstanding job. His stress and distress were obvious, but his control was even more so. He fed the facts clearly and promptly and accurately to the insatiable media. He answered the obvious, frustrating questions ("What are you waiting for?") calmly and with infinite patience, and consistently refused to be drawn into the stupid questions ("Whose fault is all this?").
But after the news broke, yesterday, of a second explosion, and the story turned from drama to disaster - then Key took the limelight. He was grave, he was direct, and best of all, he continued not to discuss blame. There would be inquiries, he said - several of them - but until they had some answers, he wasn't going to start speculating.
It's probably Whittall we have to thank that the only casualties were the people trapped. There are any number of ways he could have killed more people. He could have rushed rescuers in earlier; he could have failed to explain his reasons for not doing that, which might well have prompted someone to act behind his back. Or he could have looked too calm and detached while explaining, which could have had the same effect. But he did none of these things. And the politicians let him.
Compare with President "I want to know whose ass to kick" Obama during Deepwater Horizon - he took the opportunity to stir up anti-British xenophobia, lambasted Tony Hayward for Being Unsympathetically Foreign, and prompting the company to replace him with an American. Neither helpful nor constructive.
I'm thankful, at this point, to be living in a country where politicians don't feel they have to be seen to run everydamn'thing personally. There's a time to kick arse, and a time to let people get on with it. Key has shown that he can stay out of the way when it counts. That means the Peter Whittalls of this world can do their jobs.