John Phillip Key

(1961) New Zealand National Party statesman, Prime Minister since 2008

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(b. Auckland, North Island, 9 Aug. 1961)

New Zealand; Leader of New Zealand National Party 2006– , Prime Minister 2008–  Born to parents who had immigrated from England (his mother, a Jew, had escaped to the UK from Austria in 1939), Key and his two sisters were brought up in state housing in Christchurch by his mother, following his father's early death. He attended Burnside High School before studying accounting at the University of Canterbury, from where he graduated in 1983. Following the Lange government's liberalization of exchange controls, he moved into currency trading, having previously worked for some years in business. In 1995 he joined Merrill Lynch and moved to Singapore, where he was the company's head of Asian foreign exchange, before moving to London and then Sydney. While with Merrill Lynch, Key gained the reputation as a ‘smiling assassin’ because he appeared able to remain cheerful while cutting staff costs. Key was a member of the foreign exchange committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1999 to 2001. Having gained a substantial private fortune, Key returned to New Zealand in 2001 and ‘fulfilled a long-held ambition’ by running for political office. He became a National Party member of parliament in 2002, and increased his majority at the 2005 election. In 2004 Key was appointed his party's finance spokesman and in 2006 he became his party's leader. During his time in London Key was struck by the way in which Tony Blair had influenced the British Labour Party, and Key then began a process of reinvigoration of the National Party. Key's experience of poverty in his youth has given him an insight into the problems of New Zealand's poor and, while in opposition, he pledged to support an initiative providing food to the country's poorest schools. In 2008, amid world economic problems, Key led his party to victory in the general election, toppling the Labour government of Helen Clark, which had been in power for nine years. While pledging to lower taxes and fight crime, Key has aligned his party more closely to the political centre, accepting some of the previous government's positions, such as its anti-nuclear stance.

Subjects: Politics.

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