Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: How to flag down the boss

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John Key can make the media jump through hoops if he has a mind to. Photo / Getty Images
John Key can make the media jump through hoops if he has a mind to. Photo / Getty Images

I have been back at work on the radio for nearly a month now. After a glorious couple of weeks, I was behind the mic, taking the pulse of the nation through my talkback show.

As I expected, the pulse rate was a little slow. Most people were still at the beach, including the movers and shakers and decision-makers.

Still, we managed to fill the gaps between the ads with some interesting calls and it was a nice change to work in the mornings and have the lovely summer evenings free.

One such evening I went for a trot around the Domain. I'm aiming to run the Queenstown Marathon in November and, as I discovered on my first slow painful lumber, I have quite a way to go before I can be confident of knocking off 42km.

I thought briefly of jogging up the steps towards the museum and quickly decided against it. I compromised by taking them two at a time. As I heaved and gasped my way towards the top, I moved to the left to allow a couple to descend.

I picked they were tourists and tried to get my breathing under control so as not to give a bad impression of New Zealanders.

"Put some effort into it," said the man as we passed one another.

How rude, I thought. At least I'm out here trying. I bit back a retort and fixed him with an icy glare - and saw it was John Key, out on a pre-prandial stroll with the missus.

We exchanged New Year's wishes and then I asked him when he was getting back to work.

"I could do with some easy talkback topics, Prime Minister," I implored. "It's been a long week."

And bless him, hasn't he obliged this week with talk of changing the flag? The lines lit up and everyone in the country had a view.

Even expat Kiwis phoned in. I had a few callers who listen online, one from Norway, one from England, who had very definite views on what a new flag should look like.

It's a time-honoured ploy for politicians to float a populist or controversial issue in a bit of smoke and mirrors chicanery - distract the people with a bit of fluff and they'll never notice while you pass a tricky bit of legislation.

So I kept my ears pricked and my eyes peeled over the next few hours to see whether an unpalatable policy was going to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

It might have been the announcement just a couple of hours later that the Department of Conservation is to use the controversial poison 1080 on an extra half million hectares of native forests in an attempt to avoid a plague of rats and stoats. Not a lot of people like 1080, however there doesn't seem to be a better alternative when it comes to controlling the pest population.

I'm certain that the change of flag wouldn't have been introduced to distract attention from Labour's baby bonus policy - David Cunliffe made a complete hash of announcing the $60-a-week payment for new parents and I'm sure Key would have been quite happy letting Cunliffe burble on and be hoist by his own petard. And what's with Labour subsidising households on $150,000?

I suppose if you live in the leafy suburb of Herne Bay and you're on an Opposition leader's salary of nearly $263,000 - topped up with whatever salary your clever wife brings home - you might assume that those on $150,000 are wondering where their next bottle of pinot gris is coming from. But most people - including the 150k-ers - would surely think the money could be put to better use.

Maybe it was just a throwaway comment from the Prime Minister about the change of flag, but I doubt it. He can make the media jump through hoops and he's no ingenuous naif. He had a reason for flying the flag issue - and I don't think it was to make the life of a talkback host easier.

- Herald on Sunday

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