There appears to be an off button

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Above: On or off?


John Key has told Parliament that he has not had phone calls with blogger Cameron Slater in his capacity as Prime Minister. It is not yet clear whether Key said this to Parliament in his capacity as Prime Minister.

It’s a curious thing that John Key can stop being the PM when it suits him, particularly as the job would seem to be a 24-hour-a-day seven-day-a-week occupation. It’s even more curious that Key can stop being the PM when he is talking to people who are heavily involved in politics—people like Cameron Slater, for instance. What would Key and Slater talk about if the subject matter was not political? Perhaps Key rings Slater when he needs to know the weather forecast. Everyone knows Slater is glued to his computer screen almost every waking hour, so who better to call if you need someone to go online and check out the MetService?

But let’s assume there’s something to all of this. Let’s accept that John Key’s Prime Ministership has an off button. If someone comes up to John Key while the button is switched to off and starts to talk about tax or housing or unemployment, Key will be forced to say: “I’m sorry, but you will have to talk to the Prime Minister. I am not the Prime Minister at this particular point in the space-time continuum.”

John Key’s ability to turn his Prime Ministership on or off as he pleases raises a number of troubling issues for the general public. If Key can turn his PM setting to off the moment anyone asks him anything awkward, how will we ever be able to hold him to account? Shouldn’t we expect our politicians to answer the tricky questions? But a more fundamental problem is that we’re never going to know when he’s on and when he’s off, unless he tells us. What if his Prime Ministership is on during an interview, but the interview goes badly for him and so he then decides that it was actually turned off the whole time?

“You may claim that I just said all beneficiaries should be turned into sausages and fed to the working poor, Guyon, but I didn’t say any such thing in my capacity as Prime Minister.”

So wouldn’t it be helpful if there was some way for people interacting with John Key to know the exact status of that interaction?  For example, when Key orders his morning coffee, will he be doing so as the PM, or will the button be turned to off? Doesn’t the barista making his coffee deserve to know?

John Key owes it to the people of New Zealand to be open and transparent about his capacity. There needs to be some way for us all to tell when he is being the PM, and when he is being someone else. The obvious and most cost-effective solution (bearing in mind the constrained fiscal environment our government operates in) would be for John Key to wear a particular hat when he is Prime Ministering. Better still, he could wear a cape or robes, or one of those horsehair wigs barristers sometimes wear.

But how would this work when John Key was on the phone to someone, or was being interviewed on the radio? If John Key phones a blogger to shoot the breeze, how is the poor blogger supposed to know whether he is speaking to the PM, or to some other person? They could always ask, but they might think it rude to do so.

The answer is for one of Key’s staffers to always be present in the background with a little hand-held stereo unit. As soon as Key picks up the phone to call someone in his capacity as PM, that staffer would turn the unit on and play a Prime Ministerial music track that everyone recognised. This track would be sounding gently in the background, providing certainty for anyone listening at the other end that they are listening to the PM, and not some other John Key.

We don’t have an instantly recognisable tune to associate with our leader, unlike the US with its Presidential anthem Hail to the Chief, so there will need to be public debate about the song to be played in the background, and this process should also involve consultation with Iwi and other stakeholders, whoever they may be.

Key is the leader of our country, so God Defend New Zealand might be the answer, and it’s a song everyone knows; but on the other hand it’s a dreary tune that doesn’t do much for some people.  Alternatively, different party leaders might choose different tunes based on what inspires them or makes them feel good, kind of like Radio NZ National’s Best Song Ever Written. But what tune would John Key select?

We could even make a contest out of it and call it an election. Now there’s an issue that might engage the young.

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