Pity the Electoral Commission, left looking like a humourless wowser by a High Court ruling that the satirical Planet Key song was not in breach of electoral laws.
The court's ruling came out last week, the same week in which the Electoral Commission released its report into the 2014 election.
The recommendations in that report amount to an explanation for the commission's apparent dearth of humour: by law, it was not allowed to have a sense of humour.
The report was written before the High Court ruling, but the Electoral Commission raised the case in its report as well as a previous case in 2011 in which it referred The Jono Project comedy show to the police for a skit with Mana leader Hone Harawira. The commission pointed out there were exemptions for news and current affairs programmes, as well as comment. It asked Parliament to change the law by adding an exemption for satire and humour.
The High Court ruling was primarily because the song and music video did not amount to an "advertisement" or "election programme" as defined under the law. However, the court also made it clear in its side comments that even if it had been, the existing exemption allowing comment by private individuals would have covered the song in question.
The Electoral Commission has a tendency to take a narrow, literal, black and white approach to its decisions. It likes black and white rules, so it wants a specific exemption. The Minister of Justice, Amy Adams, will now be left to look at its recommendations.
Many parliamentarians are not lacking in a sense of humour. But they can be prone to hyper-sensitivity when others exercise it.
There was a press protest in 2007 when Parliament passed a law which banned the use of footage from Parliament for the use of satire, ridicule or denigration. It prompted guerrilla footage of MPs yawning, picking their noses and doing the fingers. The rule was time limited to that Parliament, was never used and quietly disappeared after the 2008 election.
While we're looking at humour, it came up this week with news that MPs' partners were to accompany them on the annual joke that is the Speaker's Tour. Parliament's singletons must be fuming. The average amount of personal benefit MPs get from such perks is taken off their base salary by the Remuneration Authority, which considers such perks as part of the overall package. So the single MPs are effectively subsidising their colleagues' conjugal tourism as well as being subjected to the opprobrium hurled politicians' way whenever the topic of travel perks comes up.
Footballers and royalty are among the very few groups where few questions are raised when it comes to taking partners along for the ride.
In those cases, the spouses are worth the cost in entertainment value alone. When it comes to politicians, Prime Minister John Key has the strongest case for taking his wife with him overseas. Country leaders often travel with spouses because it is good manners and good business in other countries. But he pays for her costs himself.
He has little tolerance for defending such perks when it comes to politicians. He came from the private sector and runs his own Cabinet much like a chief executive might run his management team. Back in 2009 he set up a rule that his ministers should either leave the partner at home or pay for their travel themselves. He still abides by that rule. Since then, the formal Cabinet approval forms for overseas travel includes a clause specifying the ministers will cover the partners' costs themselves.
The Clerk of the House pointed out the actual extra cost for partners on the Speaker's Tour is negligible. The MP in question has to turn in their business-class ticket for two premium economy or even, gasp, cattle class.
Such sacrifice is illusory given MPs also rack up a great stash in airpoints which they can use to claw their way back into business class without dipping into their own pockets.
Perception is everything.
Whether a group of backbench MPs really need a full contingent of missuses trailing along with a job description of "mingling" is another matter. The only advantage is that on what would otherwise have been an all-male junket, the partners' presence blunt attempts to paint it as The Hangover 3.