Toby Manhire

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Toby Manhire: There's more to PM Key than meets the eye

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Whatever he is - Comedy John or Appropriate John - one thing's certain: he's streets ahead.

There's more to John Key than meets the eye. Photo / Mark Mitchell
There's more to John Key than meets the eye. Photo / Mark Mitchell

When Andrew Little stood before a sleepy, half-empty New Zealand House of Parliament last week, clasped his extended hands together and began to skip from foot to foot, it seemed to confirm that the "Gangnam Style" phenomenon was over at last. The Labour list MP had vaulted his invisible horse clean over the proverbial shark and all the way to the glue factory.

No such luck. On Wednesday, the land's most senior elected politician took that ailing old mare for another ride, performing the Gangnam dance on two different breakfast radio programmes.

Beneath a video clip of one of his happy gallops, two viewer comments neatly captured the different ways the PM's cheeky-chappy routine is perceived.

The first: "I bloody love that we have a prime minister who is not afraid to make a tit of himself. Only in New Zealand. Love ya John." And the other: "This is what is running our country."

Even if you tend towards the horror-stricken take of the second commenter, only the blinkered and snooty could fail to understand the "Love ya John". For those who cheer the Prime Minister's common-man chutzpah number as many, if not more, than those who cringe.

All the same, there's plenty of cause to cringe. Batshit-thick Beckham. The Liz Hurley lusting. Handshake interruptus. Gay red tops. Eating maggots onstage with Bear Grylls. All that. On Wednesday morning, as well as the Gangnam double, Key took part in a laddish mock gay wedding on yet another breakfast show. The invisible horse does not trot alone.

Our Prime Minister seems sometimes indistinguishable from the fictitious NZ PM in Flight of the Conchords, a political facsimile of that "basically just a chilled out entertainer" David Brent from The Office.

But in truth Key is more like the American version of Ricky Gervais' Office character, as played by Steve Carrell. A bit of a dork. But essentially a likeable dork. A dork like us.

And as long as he can keep his chilled-out-entertainer persona dancing a good distance from the weighty matters, that seems, for most, tickety-boo.

After the gay red top carry-on, Key insisted that his "kidding around" was let out only for "light-hearted events". He challenged critics to "show me one example where I haven't discharged my responsibility seriously, professionally and appropriately".

Fair enough. Nothing worse than a politician with no sense of humour. Nor is all his material mawkish. Joshing around before one of his Gangnam acts on Wednesday morning, he joked, against himself, "Without me, 7 Days wouldn't last - it would be, like, Half a Day." I laughed.

The growing challenge for Key, in the second year of his second term, is keeping Comedy John out of Appropriate John's face. A warning of that came in the second half of his Wednesday show. The Ministry of Education's chief executive was on her way out. The minister was on holiday. And the Prime Minister was a no-show.

In a matter of hours, the invisible horse had turned invisible prime minister. A moment before, Comedy John had been impossible to avoid; now, as the depths to which the fiasco-plagued Education Ministry had plunged were confirmed, where was Appropriate John?

The Labour Party, meanwhile, has stumbled in its own attempts to illustrate how Comedy John and Appropriate John are entwined - not least in pointing at him and shouting "Liar John", without being able to produce evidence of lies.

A day after Andrew Little's K-Pop performance last week, David Shearer signed off for the year by thanking the Government "for the help it has been giving to the Opposition all year, providing those easy targets". In doing so, Shearer offered an eloquent account of his party's own failings: for the most part, those targets were missed.

Much ink has been spilled in recent weeks in naming the politicians of the year. Green leader Russel Norman had most pundits' votes. Other picks included Judith Collins and Kim Dotcom. They're all wrong. The politician of the year is John Key.

In sport, the cliche runs that the best teams win even if they play badly. After a difficult year, one third of the way into a difficult second term, John Key is still well out in front of the field, invisible horse or not. And as we gallop into 2013 the strange possibility is that his greatest opponent might also be his greatest friend, the free-wheeling, just-kidding Comedy John.


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- NZ Herald

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