PM with his wits -and wit - about him

Was John Key's press conference conversation stopper the other day simply an unscripted slip of the scalpel - err, sorry, the tongue - or part of a deliberate ongoing bloke-next-door charm offensive?

Most of us want to like the bloke next door.

It makes life a whole lot easier when you get on with the neighbours.

OK, maybe you don't want to spend your leisure time in their jacuzzi, but it's useful to be able to sort out those small issues that crop up from time to time - like "your dog just left his signature on our front lawn" - without setting up a Gaza-like stand-off.

And to this end it helps to be on a similar wavelength, to speak roughly the same dialect.

Seems to me there are two political default modes at large in the great unwashed New Zealand psyche: one is the "don't know, don't care, better leave it to someone really smart who does" model, of which Helen Clark was probably often the beneficiary.

The rest of those inclined to reach for the Paracetamol at the mere issue of the word "issue", operate from within the common sense paradigm: there ain't nothing that can't be sorted through a bit of banter across the back fence.

John Key, has that particular gift - the vernacular - but you don't do as well as he's done, either in high finance or politics, by being the class dunce.

So my guess is that those whose job it is to gauge reactions and to monitor performance on the part of our Prime Minister have encouraged Mr Key to carry on playing to the gallery.

"Be candid, be spontaneous.

If the public likes you, they'll be prepared to forgive a great deal."

If that is, in fact, the case, they should consider rehearsing the PM on his delivery and timing or give him a more polished script.

Ideological offensiveness notwithstanding, the Tuhoe/dinner remark suffers from its squandered punch line: "The good news is that I was having dinner with Ngati Porou, as opposed to their neighbouring iwi which is Tuhoe, in which case I would have been dinner, which wouldn't have been quite so attractive," he said.

Gosh all those "whiches".

They do make rather a meal of a "joke".

It felt like a line fluffed, or poorly scripted in the first place.

Either that, or the PM was suffering from indigestion. Which brings us back to that "too much information" press conference stopper and the question of the big snip - the prime ministerial vasectomy.

A split decision? A good number of New Zealanders - like teenagers regarding their parents - were probably uncomfortable being confronted by the pruriently intrusive thought that prime ministers actually might have sex.

On the other hand, down in the back garden and over the fence ...

"Gosh, John, taking a bit of a gamble, mate. I mean what if something went completely wrong - you know a tragedy, an illness, these things do happen - and you had to start over again?"

"Mate, Bronagh and I talked it over and, well, you know, it's a bit like everything else in life. You weigh up the odds, the pros and cons, and if you have to take a bit of a gamble, you do it on an informed basis."

Spoken like a true money-market millionaire.

Talking about gambling, one of those whose job it is to weigh up the pros and cons of the PM's performance - and, yes, dear reader, we have now discreetly tip-toed out of the prime ministerial boudoir - was said over the weekend to have been hitting the show-girl gilded casinos of Las Vegas.

The PM's chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, reported the Herald on Sunday, has been enjoying a private flutter on the roulette tables there in the company of a prominent lobbyist - a prime ministerial "no-no" - and other National Party notables.

This is the same Mr Eagleson who recently was called upon to give Trade and Climate Negotiations Minister Tim Groser a flea in the ear for having a drink or two and raising his voice on an international flight.

Mr Groser is such a regular traveller to high-stakes conferences these days that one could surely have forgiven him the odd stress-relieving moment - without sundry mean-spirited tittle-tattlers having their affront massaged in this manner.

Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.


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