Key and Shearer: Both 'nice guys', but both leaders?

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 11:28 13/11/2012
Fairfax NZ

John Key and David Shearer both think of each other as nice guys.

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Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader David Shearer may not agree on everything, but they are unanimous that they are both ''nice guys''.

''He is a nice guy, a genuinely nice guy,'' Key said of his opponent this morning. ''I am sure he is a nice man as well,'' Shearer said in response.

Shearer, who is under pressure to lift his performance as the party heads into its annual conference next weekend, said he saw his keynote speech as ''a great opportunity'' to put his party's agenda across.

''Normally in Opposition you are reacting to the Government. It's also about being able to express ourselves and our policies and get them out there,'' he said as he ran the media gauntlet on the way into the weekly caucus meeting.

Key's praise ended at the ''nice guy'' comment, however.

''Whether he's a good leader is a different issue,'' he said.

''It's really ultimately a matter for the Labour party, you know they are not a very happy bunch of campers over there, are they? They don't seem to back him very much do they?''

Asked about their one-on-one clashes he said he had seen tougher leaders.

''Helen Clark was much much tougher obviously and Phil Goff was,'' Key said.

However, Shearer said he was not expecting a challenge to his leadership.

''Of course not. It's not about a challenge. There is no challenge. It's not an issue.''

Any such speculation was just ''rumour and talk''.

A major announcement, possibly in the housing or social policy area, is expected at the Labour conference.

Shearer said Labour's message was focused on jobs, education and a new way to approach the economy.

''I am happy where we are going, where the trends are going.''

He said a lot of the debate was ''bloggers talking to each other'' and he was surprised others had been asking these questions.

He earlier said he did not expect the ''whispering campaign'' against his leadership to brought up at the caucus meeting.

''I am doing a good job as a leader, because Labour has come up in the opinion polls and National have come down. The gap between us is only about 10 or 11 points now. Now that is closer than we have been in the last four or five years.''

The constitutional changes discussed at the conference would make the party more open and transparent. They include setting a trigger for a leadership vote. The options are a vote by 40 per cent of the caucus, 55 per cent and 67 per cent, with 55 per cent seen as most likely.

Shearer declined to give his view on the trigger.

''Because I am leader I have stayed right out of that debate. I have done it deliberately because I obviously have a conflict of interest.''

Those tipped for a future leadership challenge include deputy leader Grant Robertson, economic development spokesman David Cunliffe and former union boss Andrew Little.

All have said they had no plans at a tilt for the leadership and have pledged their loyalty to Shearer.

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