Sir Bob Jones
Commentary on issues of the day from the property tycoon, author and former politician

Bob Jones: Lighten up, you're offending the rest of us

David Cunliffe made a clever word play when discussing fishing and labelled Judith Collins a trout. Photo / David White
David Cunliffe made a clever word play when discussing fishing and labelled Judith Collins a trout. Photo / David White

We live in an unprecedented age of offence-seeking. Consider recent news items. Kim Dotcom ran a clever advertisement asserting that thousands of Kiwis live below the global broadband line, whereupon S. George, a ghastly complainant, was offended for God's sake, and wheedled to the Advertising Standards Authority. Apparently, in his mind, this terminology trivialised poverty. In fact, the only poverty exposed was S. George's character.

Another miserable soul, D. Henderson, also complained to the authority over an insurance company's advertisement which he said denigrated soccer players as unmanly. The advert has a boy asking his grandfather about his deceased father and whether he liked rugby or soccer and girls. Granddad replied, "He was one of the good ones - rugby - and he loved your mum with all his heart."

Henderson took offence, claiming this implied soccer players are a bunch of fairy queens. The authority rightly rubbished both complaints.

David Cunliffe made a clever word play when discussing fishing and labelled Judith Collins a trout, this an abbreviation of the derisory term for scolding women as "old trouts". The minister, who I'd have thought was of tougher mettle and would respond with a smart retort, instead whined about sexism.

Adversarial politics has a long history of personal abuse - it simply goes with the territory. If women MPs are going to cry sexism when on the receiving end then they should stay out of politics because it's not going to change. Numerous anthologies have been published, including several in New Zealand, of politicians' funny or clever abuse of each other. Churchill was famous for it. It's simply part of the trade. Also, our cartoonists weigh into politicians, often incredibly cruelly.

Collins further complained that on another occasion Cunliffe suggested if she was the last woman on earth, the human race would become extinct. Again she cried sexism. Judith should buy a dictionary as it has nothing to do with sexism. Cunliffe subsequently apologised for this but should not have done.

Judith has an attractive face and is past child-bearing age, plus, to say the least, Cunliffe, who resembles a squashed tomato, is no Adonis, thus the comment was plainly not meant literally. Were Cunliffe handsome and Judith aged 30 and ugly then the crack would have been grossly out of order as it would be taken literally.

Women may dismiss this behaviour as male conceits but should remember that the bulk of parliamentary business is conducted with civility and cross-party collegiality. But from time to time the underlying competitive tension raises temperatures and insults fly. Usually they constitute humour, at someone's expense. It's part of our tradition to be found in all British ex-colonies' parliaments, unlike the brawling which frequently breaks out in Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine and other parliaments lacking that tension-reducing tradition.

I've written before about the absurdities regarding racial offence-taking with any mention of skin colour causing an uproar. The England soccer captain last year found himself in deep trouble for referring to an opposing player as a black bastard. Had he called him a bastard no one would have cared but nowadays, calling a black man black is inexplicably offensive to some, always ready offence-takers, and the tired old charge of racism rears.

One thinks back fondly to a more robust age and masters of political insults such as Muldoon and Lange, and more recently Michael Cullen. When Muldoon described Opposition leader Bill Rowling as a shiver looking for a spine to run up or Lange undiplomatically told the assembled journalists outside 10 Downing St after meeting Margaret Thatcher, that it was like being addressed at the Nuremberg rally, everyone laughed.

Thatcher didn't, though, so perhaps it's a female thing, women not being great at insults and repartee. Instead, she sent the head of the British armed forces, an admiral, to Wellington to sort Lange out over Labour's nuclear nonsense.

As he walked towards David in the Beehive, leading an entourage of diplomatic flunkies, the admiral deferentially removed his hat, holding it before him upside down. Always a glorious mocker of pomposity, David drew a coin from his pocket and dropped it in the upturned hat. The outraged admiral wheeled about and flew home within the hour. Wonderful stuff.

Or take Muldoon being interviewed with then shadow finance minister Bob Tizard after the Budget. The television interviewer invited Tizard's comments and for several minutes Bob railed away. "What do you say to all of that Prime Minister?" the interviewer then asked. "Nothing, I wasn't listening," was Rob's devastating reply.

Unless we're to descend to a Taliban-type society in which children are beheaded over innocuous behaviour deemed offensive to the prophet, some people should both lighten up and toughen up for their constant offence-seeking is deeply offensive to the rest of society.

- NZ Herald

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