You can dismiss a political opponent's speech as rubbish. But describing it as boring is much more of a low blow.
"Boring" was the instant verdict by Winston Peters on John Key's speech which yesterday kicked off the first debate of the parliamentary year.
While Key's effort would not rank amongst his classics, it was not that bad. Boredom, however, was something of a theme during the debate on the Prime Minister's annual statement - a document which makes the telephone directory read like a Frederick Forsyth thriller in comparison.
"A boring plan by a bored man," declared Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, decrying the absence of new ideas in the statement as she bored everyone comatose with a dirge of a speech which was almost Dickens-like in its depiction of New Zealand as a land of poverty and hardship.
Those still awake knew - to borrow one of Peters' favourite phrases - that help was on its way.
Say what you like about the NZ First leader, no one has ever described him as boring. That is despite Peters yesterday giving essentially the same speech he always gives - the one that makes frequent use of words and phrases like "neo-liberals", "currency speculators" and "Maori separatism".
Despite Peters' classification of Key's speech as boring - Peters added "useless" just to rub it in - Key delivered the best line of the afternoon in saying that David Cunliffe remained about as popular a figure in the Labour caucus as a pussycat at Gareth Morgan's place.
Ever helpful in offering David Shearer the "new ideas and fresh thinking" which the Labour leader has promised but which he had yet to reveal, Key advised his Opposition counterpart to get Cunliffe a bell to put around his neck. At least Shearer would hear Cunliffe coming the next time the latter planned a coup.
Shearer was not willing to play the role of threatened species, however. He countered by saying the only thing missing from Key's address was the punchline, because the speech was an absolute joke.
Shearer predicted it was all downhill for Key from hereon, such that he must be wondering what sort of political legacy he would leave. Shearer had a suggestion: "At one time this man was popular."
Subtle humour can easily get lost amidst the ongoing din in the parliamentary chamber. But it can be the deadliest of verbal weapons. Key had his head buried in his papers, but he would have heard every word.By John Armstrong Email John