Yes – unbeknown to John Key, we have a history, culminating with Jono and Ben.
From my first glimpse of Key, I formed a view of him that has remained unchanged. I don’t want to put a label on it but, to me, his charm is so strong as to be unreal, his emotions feigned. I read his history and carefully considered his actions; my judgement is that he seems never to have done anything for anybody except for his own benefit. The defining issue, for me and many others I believe, was his position over the 1981 Springbok tour – in turn a defining issue for the country. When as prime minister he was asked where he stood on the tour – he was 20 at the time of the tour – he said he didn’t have a view. And perhaps he didn’t, perhaps he was telling the truth – but that for me, is probably the worst possible position – he cataclysmically flunks a key (excuse the pun) morality test.
In 2008, in ‘National: Smoke and Mirrors’ I wrote:
‘In a nutshell, I see John Key as ingratiating and shallowly eclectic – when I see him on television I always have the feeling that just behind him, just out of view, there is a row of second-hand cars; others I know will see him as a genial fellow worthy of their trust.’
And so the years passed in an entirely predictable way – the corruption through fear, propaganda, government patronage, skewing of numbers, and dirty tricks occurring in unprecedented intensity. In education, for instance, Ann Tolley had a hit list of principals, some of whose names were fed to Cameron Slater, and ghastly things ensued. The practice was carried on to some extent by Hekia Parata. The ministry and review office became accomplices in corruption; the use of commissioners in schools a scandal. Government in neoliberal style became something you did to people, isolated for the purpose.
I went to a World Cup rugby match and Key was called on to the field, the collective grunt of recognition I found frightening and worrying – primitive.
In my postings I picked up the pace, but determined to do something more – a something more that ended in farce – rather immaturely enjoyable, though.
My opportunity would come, as I thought, when I was interviewed by Lachlan Forsyth (lovely guy) for Campbell Live (pretty sound) a year ago. The ducks quacked on a pond (University of Waikato), willows hung poetically in the background, and Lachlan and I were comfortable in our park three-seater. It was, however, to be something of an exercise in frustration which, not by the way, is how interviews with me can often be characterised: I have my agenda and, interviewers, not surprisingly, but most annoyingly from my point-of-view, have theirs. TV 3 had footage on charter schools in New Orleans, for which I cared not an iota, and, as well as that, Lachlan wanted my views on how I thought charter schools in New Zealand might go, which I thought irrelevant. On the matter of charter schools all I wanted to say, and was prepared to say, was that they were brought in by Key as a platform to bad-mouth public schools – end of story.
In turn I wanted to use the situation as a platform to bad-mouth Key.
Oh dear, how the best laid plans of mice and men go awry.
When it came to the moment, I was only able to get in one or two things before I saw from the set of Lachlan’s mouth that the shutters were about to fall: I braced myself and announced as though orating to a fired-up crowd in a large auditorium, ‘John Key is a slimeball!’ Any hope for an opportunity to expand on that philosophical point was quickly dashed when Lachlan hurriedly got in a question on how I thought charter schools might go.
A few nights later, the family sat around the lounge wondering what mischief I might have got up to. The auguries for their fears were not encouraging. All through the news, I came on in trailers angrily denouncing the motives for the government’s introducing charter schools. But, to their relief, in the actual programme, my contribution was more-or-less just a repeat of those angry trailers – the slimeball comment left on the editing floor.
Oh well such is life.
About two months later my northern and Waikato grandchildren rang me up excitedly. There was amazement in their voices: ‘You were on the Jono and Ben Show’, they said.
On Friday night both sets of children are allowed to stay up to watch what they consider the acme of TV – Jono and Ben. And their granddad was on it, and what’s more he said ‘slimeball’. I was a hero in their excited eyes; they looked at me anew. They became modestly famous at their schools. For a grey-headed guy comfortably in his 70s – it is, of course, highly inappropriate, and would have been something of a shock to the systems of more sensitive viewers. (Unfortunately, for the Shadbolt family, it is par for the course.)
But rest easy – things did not end there.
While the programme was being shown, a viewer texted in, which was flashed on the screen, saying, ‘That was great, could you show it again?’ Well, no they couldn’t, because when I went to see myself making a fool of myself, it had been taken down.
And that ladies and gentleman makes history: it must surely be something for an item to be so tasteless as to be required to be removed from easily the most tasteless programme ever to be screened on New Zealand TV.
Some say attack the argument not the man, but I say the man (or woman) is the argument. Anyway, I was more than willing to expand on the theme. And haven’t I been justified? What do you call a prime minister who gives sympathy to a blogger for the criticism the blogger received after he had written that a young man killed in a car crash was ‘feral’, adding that his death did ‘the world a favour’.
And the motivation for those sentiments was Key’s view ‘that the man’s mother was the same feral bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings.’
I won’t resile … he is a slimeball, and anyway, at the mere mention, I get a chortle from the grandchildren and a hug.