At his most flummoxed, Bill English sounds a bit like a lawnmower refusing to start, and so it was last month ago when he was asked about the deletion of a tweet from his account.

He muttered something about having a new phone and purported to be unaware of said tweet. By the look on his face you'd have thought it was news to him he had a Twitter account at all.

Awkwardly, the disappearing post had announced, "We're not here to shy away from the hard issues".

As if to repudiate any impression that he might be a social media dunderhead, while at the same time confirming his willingness to confront the hard issues head on, the Prime Minister posted this week to Facebook photographic evidence of his commitment to making pizza dressed not just in pineapple, but tinned spaghetti. (For clarity, that's the pizza dressed up in pineapple and spaghetti, not the Prime Minister.)


Cooked dinner for the family last night - like if you agree with tinned spaghetti on pizza!

Posted by Bill English on Monday, 3 April 2017

That might have seemed an innocuous enough update to those who have healthy and rounded lives which don't involve spending an inordinate amount of time online, but for the rest of us this was a courageous addition to a debate as crunchy as a wood-fired crust.

The question of whether pineapple is an acceptable topping has simmered for years, but it has recently flared, ending friendships, tearing families apart.

By now the meme is undeniably in its twilight, as confirmed by the fact that politicians are pitching in. Canada's Boy Scout Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, defended pineapple on pizza in February, claiming even that it was invented in Ontario.

By contrast, the President of Iceland, Guðni Jóhannesson, suggested it should be banned. Fearing, presumably, an Eyjafjallajökull-level popular eruption, he moved swiftly to clarify.

"I like pineapples, just not on pizza," he squeaked, adding: "I do not have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza."

English's intervention may have been prompted by something closer to home, however.

The issue is addressed at length by Andrew Little and his new Labour co-leader - all right, strictly speaking deputy leader - in a cover story for the new Women's Weekly, an interview so replete with syrupy adverbs that it is thought responsible for the humidity that has suffocated Auckland of late.

An appetiser: "We have these great conversations, many of them about pineapple on pizza," jokes Andrew. "I'm deeply opposed to it because it makes the pastry soggy and, honestly, would Italians really put pineapple on pizza? Jacinda definitely backs her leader on this matter."


Nodding, Jacinda goes on to describe an anti-Hawaiian pizza post she made on social media. "I lost and won votes on that day," she sighs, cheekily adding, "Apparently Bill English likes pineapple on everything."

Those words would have echoed through the Prime Minister's PR bunker. Bill must jump aboard the pineapple bus, one social media expert probably enthused, enthusiastically.

But the PM went one better than that, proving his unimpeachable anti-elitist pizza cred by adding sloppy tinned spaghetti to the mix.

"Cooked dinner for the family last night - like if you agree with tinned spaghetti on pizza!" wrote Bill English on his Facebook page, with all the laidback fluency of a phrasebook-clasping foreigner seeking directions to the post office.

The rewards for the PM's communications strategy were immediately vindicated in the feedback from social media user Ben, who wrote: "Bill English you are legend mate goin vote for you mate."

It didn't take long for the world to stop and celebrate. "If people followed the rules, we wouldn't have great food inventions. Go crazy folks," they said. Or at least Andrew Kriz did.

His was one of several responses read aloud on Minnestoan morning television in the item "Viewers weigh in on Pineapple Pizza", sparked by revelations about the cooking habits of, as the host described it, "New England's prime minister".

Even now, thoughtful scholars will be drafting papers on the disruptive power of tinned spaghetti.

John Key may have been a world leader when it came to derp-face selfies, but could he have achieved soggy diplomacy from a humble Karori kitchen? Probably, yes, he could have, but it is nevertheless only a matter of time until someone declares the imminent New Zealand campaign as "the first social media election", a designation granted pretty much every election in the world this millennium.

(The best example comes from 2008, and the opening line of a report in the Sun: "Barack Obama swept to victory thanks to the first MySpace election campaign in history.")

Do I have a point? Not especially, I mostly just wanted to write about Gareth Morgan caterwauling. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Do I have a point? Not especially, I mostly just wanted to write about Gareth Morgan caterwauling. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The latest emancipator of New Zealand politics, Gareth Morgan, was the other star of social media this week, diving headlong into the pencil-thick silo of Twitter, where he patiently explained to those who disagreed with his views on tourist poo that they were idiots, lightweights and wimps, adding, "Only whores will do anything for money."

Some thought the Opportunities Party leader had lost his marbles. He said Twitter is a brawl. Others sensed a calibrated strategy.

He certainly landed an interview with RNZ off the back of it, where he was able to make his case about freedom campers and tourist taxes. If he thinks it'll get him into the Herald, however, he's got another thing com - oh.

Morgan is clearly trying to channel some part of Donald Trump, most conspicuously in using the word "establishment" every second breath. That's the same Donald Trump who told the Financial Times that his online platforms allowed him to circumvent "the fake media", that "without the tweets, I wouldn't be here".

In reality though Twitter is a fringe sport, a speck in user terms compared to the numbers that, in Gerry Brownlee's memorable phrase, "buggerise around on Facebook all day".

And for the most part, the impact of politicians' social media is probably overstated - it may be the lowest hanging fruit of political scandal, but when it comes to campaigning, it matters less in winning over the undecided as it does as a tool to harvest supporters' details, to extract donations from them and to ensure they get out to vote.

Do I have a point? Not especially, I mostly just wanted to write about Gareth Morgan caterwauling and the semiotics of spaghetti on pizza. Except perhaps to say that pineapple on pizza is fine.

And this: the hazards for social-media-using politicians are at least as plentiful as the opportunities. After Donald Trump's ghastly, incoherent and contemptible outbursts on Twitter, for example, people could see his true character.

There was just no way, given all that, that Americans were ever going to elect him.