Herald columnist Dita De Boni recently condemned Foreign Minister Murray McCully's responses to foreign crises. Can't he say something better than always calling for restraint, she protested, thereby revealing her outsider's ignorance of Parliament's cultural mores.

It's true that whenever bailed up in Parliament's corridors, Murray abruptly gulps, his eyes bulge and - resembling a startled warthog - he plaintively calls for restraint. Murray's not addressing Putin or whoever, but instead the Press Gallery, and, in particular, Barry Soper. That's because Parliament is bound up in tradition, one being that whenever the Foreign Minister is addressing the cameras, Soper as the doyen of the Press Gallery must crouch behind him and grab him between the buttocks.

If Soper's unavailable then the Herald's veteran gallery reporter Audrey Young fulfils this duty, which custom dictates must be tolerated without complaint.

Murray's predecessor, Winston Peters, a respecter of convention, never batted an eyelid, but Don McKinnon always adopted a loopyish grin, leading to parliamentary gossip suggesting he liked it. It's why we don't have female foreign ministers, as inexplicably our lot object to this sacrosanct parliamentary tradition, dating back to Sir John Marshall.


Test cricket is bound up in similar conventions; these also lead to public misunderstandings. As former international batsman John Morrison explained once while commentating a test match and the batsmen had met in mid-pitch for a chinwag, spectators think they're discussing tactics. They're not, John declared, speaking from experience, saying that the conversation is invariably one batsman advising the other of a specially attractive girl in the crowd.

These tension-relaxing rituals are essential in competitive situations, particularly politics, but this year's election is almost through the looking glass stage, as instead of scrapping over the donkey vote, thanks to Labour's collapse, a pervading small-party madness has arisen to fill the void.

I never thought anything could top Laila Harre's 2002 defeat explanation with her "Unfortunately the public voted with their heads", but by God there's been some serious challenges, notably from Laila herself. Even the most hardened hacks were dumbstruck by her protest at allowing her boss into the country. But she was immediately trumped by Dotcom himself, who agreed it was an outrage. If he feels that strongly then America, where he's destined to end up anyway, will give him a big hello, plus free accommodation for a very long time, although decidedly smaller than his current abode.

Colin Craig continues to delight. Explaining away his nutty image, he instead cemented it by saying, "It was logical to platform off the rhetoric already being discussed". Psychiatrists are banned from entering, but there's a trip to Upper Volta for anyone making sense of that. Having lost female voters after declaring New Zealand women promiscuous, Colin is now targeting homosexuals by an advertising campaign showing him lying in long grass with a come-hither look. Missing is a rose stem between his teeth.

To add to the madness, Labour's normally sane Andrew Little, jealous of Trevor Mallard's moa headlines, declared men charged with sex crimes will be automatically guilty unless they can prove their innocence. Then to further alienate male voters, Labour's serial apologiser leader, at least for the next two months, chimed in, unbelievably apologising for being a man. Heightening the entertainment, fraudster, tax cheat and bankrupt Graham McCready, having failed with his bribery and corruption charges against the much put-upon Len Brown, lodged similar nonsensical claims against the Prime Minister, the police and some senior public servants. If he directed his attention to Claudette Hauiti, whose spending of public funds has been euphemistically described as "misuse", why, I'd pay his costs.

But the clear winner in the lunacy stakes is New Zealand First's Asenati Lole-Taylor for her insistence that the Reserve Bank is owned by foreigners. How do such no-hopers get on the public payroll? More particularly, why? A cause? That applies to the Greens and the Maori Party but for 70 per cent of the rest it means a salary they could never dream of, an escape from obscurity and flying about at the taxpayers' expense - all heady stuff.

That said, it involves gruelling long hours but it's still better than being outside, which is why so many former MPs attempt a comeback. They remind me of once being shown a salmon farm on Stewart Island. I protested at the cruelty of the salmon swimming round and round in a confined space, whereupon the manager pointed out some which had escaped and were swimming round the outside, trying to get back in.

With all this insanity, feel sorry for Winston, with everyone stealing his thunder. Stuck low in the polls, he must be tossing at night, trying to conjure up a last-minute preposterous allegation to carry him over the 5 per cent. It will have to be a beauty, otherwise with the current competition he's history. If Gilbert and Sullivan were alive, they would be euphoric and produce a wonderful comic-operetta on this election campaign.