‘Not Electioneering’, Key-style

John Key in an 'election free zone'

Nothing to do with me‘, says Key (and Joyce).

After all, John Key explicitly announced in the first minute of the one hour Radio Live ‘PM’s Hour’ that it was an “election free zone”.

But that raises the question of just how John Key electioneers, doesn’t it?

Word has it‘ that an ‘election free zone’ is pretty much the style that John Key adopted, on the street, in ‘meet and greets’ while actively electioneering.

Key claimed, while ‘electioneering’, that he wanted to “talk about the issues that matter” – these were, it appears, the following:

“He talks about his training regime, about his wife’s birthday, a bar he once frequented in Dublin, about his son and daughter. He admires someone’s new iPhone and passes on parenting tips to a newborn’s parents: “One thing will never change: There will always be demands for money.” [said Key]”

Perhaps it’s unfair to poke fun. Maybe people just don’t want to talk about what Key claimed were the “issues that really matter” (the economy, etc.). Maybe they didn’t want to ask, or even listen?

Or maybe some of them do.

Here’s an example:

“Key keeps most of his encounters personal and light-hearted. His genius is that he asks questions and talks as if he hasn’t got microphones and cameras under his nose, as if it is just he and they in the middle of the footpath. He never lectures and when he does mention policy, it’s almost as if he’s embarrassed about electioneering.

Sometimes he’s asked a serious question, about the minimum wage or the Trans Pacific Partnership and these too he answers. But he shuts down a conversation that’s not going his way with an “oh, well,” a shrug, a polite farewell and walking away. He will never get into an argument. He never asks for a vote or support.

So, he is, apparently, ’embarrassed’ to talk about “the issues that really matter”; he “shuts down [any] conversation that’s not going his way” on “the issues that really matter”; “[h]e will never get into an argument” about “the issues that really matter”.

And then there’s the claim that “[h]e never asks for a vote or support”?? That means, presumably, that even when electioneering on the streets with microphones and cameras all around him he isn’t in breach of the Electoral Act! A remarkable achievement for a Prime Minister in the middle of an election campaign seeking a second term.

Others may know better about the intricacies of the Broadcasting and Electoral Acts, but it looks to me that John Key has found a delightfully obvious way of getting around them that is utterly suitable to personality-based election campaigns and this post-modern, post-politics world: Never ask for support; never talk policy (unless totally forced to by someone’s impoliteness in raising such boring and offensive matters) – and, of course, smile.

When one woman at a restaurant in Napier’s West Quay says he must get sick of making “such slight conversation” and still keep smiling, he smiles.

And well he might smile. John Key has played on the image of being the politician you have when you don’t have a politician. The ordinary guy who really is more interested in talking about Coronation Street (or iPhones) than “the issues that really matter”.

Then, out of the blue, he gets offered an hour as a DJ on one of the most popular radio talkback shows right in the middle of the three month period prior to the election. The only promise our post-politician Prime Minister has to make is not to electioneer – not, in other words, to speak about “the issues that really matter”.

As you can see from the above, I’m having trouble not being sarcastic about this whole episode.

The one bright note in the whole transparently deceitful episode is the Electoral Commission’s judgment that “the show was (a) an election programme for the purposes of section 69 of the Broadcasting Act“.

Interestingly, it was not found to be an election advertisement under section 3A of the Electoral Act because it falls under the exemption for editorial content) and not under section 221 of the Act (which specifies the need for the true name’ and business address of the person for whom the advertisement was published).

None of this is surprising given that John Key’s walkabouts during the election campaign similarly did not meet the criteria for being an election advertisement, which are:

Since Key’s electioneering style appears to be to avoid asking anyone for their vote or support, he breezes past this definition with ease.

To their eternal credit, the Electoral Commission adopted a broad understanding to the question of how ‘election free’ the Prime Minister’s Hour actually was:

Electoral Commission Decision

Now all we need is a public unmoved by ‘the electioneering you have when you don’t have electioneering‘ – then we can all get some sleep.

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