Ponytail antics bizarre but not knowing the name of someone you’re going to war with far more serious.

By weird coincidence, I had written a column on inappropriate behaviour in our Australasian leaders this week. But it had to be chucked yesterday when it became clear that Prime Minister John Key had played a blinder and managed to reveal himself as a ponytail fetishist and socially inappropriate dolt at a cafe in Parnell.

I hardly think it is the first time the Prime Minister has shown poor judgment, and yet it is the first time evidence of that poor judgment seems to have washed through his usual detractors and out into the great mass of admirers and assorted apathetics.

Putting aside the woman at the centre of the story for a moment, Ponytailgate is very much like Tony Abbott's Oniongate, where a conservative political leader who has made much mileage out of being seen as consistent, rational, and upstanding (unlike his 'crazy' opponents) does something so spectacularly bizarre that fans and foes alike are forced to recalibrate everything they thought they knew.

Fair to say, Tony Abbott has done quite a few strange things during his time in power, so Oniongate wasn't quite as gobsmacking as Ponytailgate. And yet, above all Mr Abbott's other daft antics, it has seared itself deliciously into the Australian national consciousness.


Journalist Annabel Crabb in the Sydney Morning Herald wrote a classic column about the fact that no matter what happened before or since, no one would ever forget Mr Abbott visiting a Tasmanian onion farm for a photo opportunity, plucking an onion from a bin and eating it, "lavishly, skin on and all".

Crabb points out that just a few days before the visit, Mr Abbott had told indigenous Australians in the far north of the country that "it was not the job of the taxpayer to subsidise lifestyle choices". Despite that, he was in Tasmania to announce the Government would use taxpayer money to prop up that state's onion industry. But even that didn't flabbergast Ms Crabb as much as the Australian Prime Minister's completely unashamed munching of a skin-on onion like it was an apple.

She says thereafter, whenever he made comment or pronouncement, all she could think about was the fact he had calmly devoured an onion with "the skin on. The SKIN." Every time he was in front of a camera, the image of him chomping down an onion would float in front of her eyes. And it can't have just been her - even the onion grower himself had thought it weird.

Unfortunately for John Key, the same transformation in the minds of people may apply. Who will now be able to disregard our Prime Minister conducting himself in the manner of an attention-starved schoolboy, pulling ponytails and ducking behind cafe furniture, while his security detail and his wife watched on? This most mighty of leaders, this man among men, who, when faced with a long, blonde streak of female hair, is drawn to it like a kitten to a ball of wool?

I can understand the waitress in question feeling aggrieved, and fair enough too. And perhaps some in the National Party itself. After all, one of its promising young proteges, Aaron Gilmore, was given the boot for restaurant-based hijinks far less offensive than this.

But evidence of truly inappropriate behaviour with even more serious consequences isn't too hard to find. For example, I find it absolutely astonishing that New Zealand is going to war against one of the most feared and loathed (and famous) adversaries in the world - Isis (Islamic State) - and yet Mr Key doesn't know or can't be bothered to memorise the name of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The fact that he had no shame in answering "al Jabiri something - but whatever I mean but yeah" when asked to name the leader shows a lack of gravity about the situation, to put it mildly.

For both Mr Key and Mr Abbott to continue to invoke the spirit of the Anzacs to justify a questionable push to re-enter an unwinnable war in the Middle East was also brass-necked in the extreme.


Of course, those and far more serious faux pas will be forgotten long before Ponytailgate fades from the national memory. And that's even with the National Party apparatus in frantic damage control mode.

But will it prove to be the straw that broke the back of John Key's popularity? It might be, but how ironic if a childish game of hair-tugging affecting one person counts for more than many years of neo-liberal dogma affecting thousands.

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