Toby Manhire: Leave the PM alone

Who could knock a Prime Minster who can make a derp face?
It just shows children shouldn’t be allowed in cafes.

By Toby Manhire

Pity the Prime Minister. Imagine the poor fellow, having to make a humiliating apology during a layover in Los Angeles Airport, of all places, for repeatedly pulling a waitress's hair at his local cafe. Imagine him curling up in his herringbone capsule on the jet to Turkey, his sleep broken by turbulent dreams of ponytails, pinot noir and lawsuits from Graham McCready, the inflight movie morphing through some reverie into global headlines about hair-yanking and a brand new tourism ad: 100% Puerile NZ.


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The only consolation for John Key in the midst of this nightmare must have been the knowledge that his loyal friends would defend him. But barely anyone seemed keen to stand alongside their serial ponytail tugger Prime Minister.

And so, amid a chorus of condemnation, it falls to me, not for the first time, to defend John Key, to speak up for our roguish, bish-bosh, how's-your-father, whoopsy-daisy, hope-I-didn't-harass-you-me-darlin', larrikin Prime Minister, someone who knows fun like no other, a horseplayer who is so very light-hearted that he pretty much floats, all the way up to the sun, where he melts and falls towards the sea, and everyone goes, "Wow!"

You may very well say something like this to the Prime Minister: "MPs should be held to a high standard of behaviour when they are out publicly."

You may say elected politicians should "treat people with respect", that "you earn respect as a member of Parliament, you don't get respect because you're there, you have to earn it because other people think you deserve it", adding that his behaviour "doesn't deserve respect as a member of Parliament, so he's let himself down very badly, and the institution". And if you did, you'd be quoting verbatim the Prime Minister's words before Aaron "Utu" Gilmore felt obliged to resign his seat having behaved like a prat to a waiter.

You may, equally, remind the Prime Minister of his words from late last year: "There's always a risk with third-term governments they get arrogant. There's always a risk that they veer off into a space they haven't been, and start surprising their supporters", which is why you "won't be wanting to see any hint of arrogance creeping in" and "it's incredibly important National stays connected with supporters and connected with the New Zealand public", adding that you assume he didn't mean manually connecting with the New Zealand public through the backs of their heads.

Good points, all. But it is plainly absurd to ask the Prime Minister to discipline himself. However many hats he may have, he does not have a hat that reads "Prime Minister's Boss".

Continued below.

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What else. You may note the numerous legal commentators who say that the pattern of behaviour satisfies the criteria for harassment, workplace bullying, and so on. You may pause at former National MP Marilyn Waring saying, "The Prime Minister is a sexual harasser and he has engaged in illegal activity ... under the Human Rights Act". You may reflect on the Human Rights Commissioner and former National MP Jackie Blue remarking, "It's never okay to touch someone without their permission ... there are no exceptions."

Yes, you may. But all of this is predicated on the assumption that the Prime Minister is a grown man. Were he so, such conduct, especially for someone in this unique position of power, would be indefensible. But, as is self-evident to anyone paying attention, he is clearly nothing of the sort.

What kind of a grown man pulls a waitress's hair? It may be the most shocking example of childish behaviour, but there is a pattern. Calling footballers "batshit crazy", mocking people's shirts as "gay", eating maggots as a dare, lusting after Liz Hurley, liking the film Johnny English, mincing, novelty-handshaking, derp-facing across the country: these are not the actions of an adult.

Instead of so mercilessly laying in to the Prime Minister for his inappropriate actions we should be celebrating his precociousness. After all, show me another country that has an 11-year-old as Prime Minister, albeit an 11-year-old manifestly enamoured by the stylings of easy-going entertainer David Brent. He is our child prince. Our pre-pubescent premier. Our Doogie Howser, PM.

And yet, just because he is 11, that doesn't mean there are not lessons to learn. Add this latest disgrace to the Teapot Tapes snafu and you have the most powerful evidence yet that that Canadian restaurateur was quite right: children should not be allowed in cafes.

We should be concerned, too, about someone so young and impressionable travelling, as he is in the next few days, to a draconian place like Saudi Arabia. There, it is strictly forbidden for a man to make any physical contact with a woman. His guardians need to keep him on a short leash, just in case he breaches protocol and starts yanking on hijabs.

Yes, he has behaved appallingly - even for an under-12. What is the appropriate response? The schoolyard will mete out its own punishment: while he may have the energies of a conscientious playground gossip on his side, more generally he risks becoming a figure of fun, his once endearing playtime japes and banter and buffoonery regarded instead as weird and inappropriate - hey, that's the kid who tugs ponytails!

Even so, it is right that the Prime Minister, John, aged 11, should be called into someone's office for a stern ticking off from a figure of authority. Judith Collins, perhaps. She might like to issue him with his final warning.

Debate on this article is now closed.

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- New Zealand
01:30 pm Monday 27 April 2015
Mr Key has not changed since he came into public prominence when he entered parliament some 13 years ago. He still demonstrates the same juvenile sense of humour and bullying behaviour now as then. The truly worrying thing though, is that his knowledge and understanding of our constitutional conventions and institutions, how they mesh together to protect our rights and freedoms, our very democracy, is also at an 11 year olds level. When will our protective media wake up to this failing? Surely it will be before Mr Key starts dismantling the medias freedom to comment on his activities and behaviours? He is a dangerous man.

stuart munro

- Otago
01:29 pm Monday 27 April 2015
Eels are lovely creatures - Judith is more of an Eptatretus cirrhatus.


01:29 pm Monday 27 April 2015
Refreshingly fun piece. Aged 11 or a rare dinosaur from 1984? How on earth does someone running a country have time to play with a 'tantalising' ponytail on multiple occasions?


- St Heliers
01:29 pm Monday 27 April 2015
Allowed one mistake? Helen Clark was not allowed one mistake. You specifically still go on about paintergate.


- Auckland
12:20 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
Have a feeling they'd actually cut hands off in Saudi for even reaching over a woman let alone pulling anything.. Hopefully the Dip Plods will do their job.
Thanks for a comic relief night time story to smile on, after a pretty sombre day. He even took selfies on the way to that! (sigh)

Jack P

- Napier
12:19 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
Well ,that sums it up. Now can we get on with more pressing things? John Key is our Prime Minister and we can't distract him from more important matters like , well like changing our flag gosh darn it.

Sally Randell

12:19 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
Very amusing, well done. It reminds me of the Youtube I saw done in the style of "Leave Brittany alone" , look up "Leave John Key Alone", a very emotional plea !

I do wonder if because JK is obviously 11 years old as you say, if that is the reason he keeps touching other "Little Girls" hair all over NZ. Amanda has done all those "Little Girls" parents a favour, now when they see him coming in a public place, they can stand in front of their children to protect them, just like the PM has his police minders standing close by that allow him to touch others and even as it seems, encourage him with his horse play !!!.

patricia bremner

12:19 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
It is a painful embarrassment for this young woman.
It has nothing to do with being PM.
It is unacceptable behaviour.
It has to stop.
But you're correct Toby. II year olds do this to get attention.


12:18 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
Brilliantly written Toby and oh, so true! Key is simply a little boy who acts in the manner that is typical of an immature person who is actually low in self-esteem and self-confidence.

The beauty of this episode is that it has gone world-wide with Key exposing himself to ridicule from many nations. No manner of "please forgive me, I know not what I do (did)" can undo what he has done this time. The guy is not even man-enough to apologise unreservedly without qualification.

In typical Key fashion, he has tried to wriggle free with his..."but I...). That is not a sincere apology in any shape or form. Somehow two bottles of plonk were supposed to help make amends. Sorry little boy - that gesture simply adds insult to injury. Thank goodness the rest of the world won't 'punish' us as a nation for Key's pathetic stupidity. Rather, he will be afforded the ridicule that he deserves.


12:18 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
Nice one Toby!!! :)

Jeremy Bowen

12:18 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
Would I get away with it? Would you get away with it? How would the boss have reacted or the waitress reacted if you or I had done it? If they had reacted more firmly why? These are essential questions. But the big one is, would I have done it and if not why not?


- Ellerslie
12:17 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
Toby, Great piece. Will almost certainly be misinterpreated. I for one thorught he was older than that.


- New Zealand
12:16 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
Toby, you are hilarious and I love you. Please marry me immediately.


12:16 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
NZ:Get over it and be thankful: You don't have a PM who punches the wall either side of a female student's face to intimidate.

A PM ( who appoints himself as the Minister for women) suggesting a woman's' place is ironing at home, A PM whose Immigration Minister directs that a 5 yo mentally ill child be sent back to a detention centre that has been condemned by the UNHCR, A PM who has reneged on almost ALL all promises made pre election 2013.

A PM who denies climate change. A PM who anointed himself as (Prime) Minister for Aboriginal Australians (Our First Nation People) and withdrew funding for Aboriginal Legal Services and declared that remote communities (Aboriginal "tribes") were lifestyle choices and that their funding would be withdrawn.

A PM who thinks that when a soldier is killed in Afghanistan replies "S*** happens". A PM who directly approved a multi million dollar bill to fund an institution that debunks climate chang. A PM who will not allow a conscience vote on gay marriage.

A Government at the helm of a once very well respected country and economically viable country which has plummeted into an Internationally disliked position-NZ is flying economically , Be glad.

5 Eyes

- Bay of Plenty
12:15 pm Sunday 26 April 2015
Well where the hell is Toby Manhire coming from. Just another full blown stirrer turning something trivial into a mountain. The silly girl has not done herself or her place of employment any good at all. Just another nobody trying to get a name for herself. I hope she gets the sack.
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