Toby Manhire: Leave the PM aloneSave
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.
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".
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.
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