This, from Emmerson in the NZ Herald today is pretty sharp:

Using the 'L-word' in an editorial cartoon. How long before it starts being used in news articles instead of the euphemisms?

Using the ‘L-word’ in an editorial cartoon. How long before it starts being used in news articles and editorial commentary instead of softer euphemisms?

The euphemisms — ‘economical with the truth’, ‘not forthcoming’, ‘selective’, ‘evasive’, ‘spin’, ‘telling porkies’ — continue to fly (like pigs?) but how long will it be before the media and others in the mainstream start to describe the New Zealand prime minister’s performance by shorter, sharper terms like the cartoon above?

Has John Key ridden his ‘I didn’t lie, I just forgot’ donkey as far as it can go? Time will tell. He and his supporters have no doubt been emboldened by persistently favourable opinion poll ratings and I don’t predict a swift turnaround, if any.

But truthfulness is valued in NZ society, or should be, and Mr Key’s well-worn counter-factual defence of ‘There’s a range of views, but I don’t see it that way’ or his use of blatant political top spin (e.g. claiming to be ‘vindicated’ by an Auditor-General’s report that does no such thing) will, eventually, fail him — or fail to convince. Unless he gets bored in the meantime, I guess.

 Pic: John Selkirk, Fairfax

Sometimes the truth emerges in a dance of a thousand veils. (Pic: John Selkirk, Fairfax)

Here’s a partial list of the NZ Prime Minister’s ‘memory lapses’ courtesy of the NZ Herald’s Adam Bennett:

Unfolding picture
What role did he have in Mr Fletcher’s appointment?
Last week
“Only that the State Services Commissioner came to me with a recommendation.”
“I rang him and said look I think you might be interested, if you are interested in finding out about the job you should go and speak to Maarten Wevers who is the head of DPMC and see if that job is of interest to you.”

Key’s memory lapses
* Forgot how many Tranz Rail shares he owned.
* Unsure if and when he was briefed by GCSB on Kim Dotcom.
* Forgot how he voted on drinking age.
* Could not recall whether he was for or against the 1981 Springbok Tour.
* Could not remember who was aboard mystery CIA jet parked at Wellington airport.
* Forgot he phoned future director of GCSB urging him to apply for the job.

Mr Key’s voluble partisan supporters won’t acknowledge it (nor admit it to themselves, probably) but ‘Brand Key’ — the ‘non-politician politician’ — is getting tarnished. In my view that’s not a result of dishonesty or arrogance or even hubris. I think we’re just seeing the outworking of a slippery ‘business ethics’ I-can’t-believe-how-much-the-punters-will-let-us-get-away-with approach to government.

This latest example: Mr Key shoulder-tapping an apparently thinly-qualified school friend — followed by a questionable appointment process — for an important role affecting New Zealanders’ civil liberties appears to be par for the course* for this government. Look at the controversy surrounding Judith Collins’s recent appointments of Robert Kee and Susan Devoy.

That the GCSB boss is the prime minister’s childhood friend is remarkable enough. That Ian Fletcher was appointed in such a manner — he ‘applied’ after a personal phone call from the PM, and Fletcher was the only candidate interviewed — seems dubious. (That, as I read it, is the gist of former GCSB head Bruce Ferguson’s ‘complaint’ having watched his Campbell LIVE interview last night. Worth watching.)

That Mr Key has engaged in progressive denials of fact (even denying the friendship with Ian Fletcher) then cagey admissions, now claiming memory lapses (‘Key forgets tip to friend over spy job’ – Andrea Vance), in an unedifying dance of a thousand veils is more than ‘disturbing’. It’s appalling.

What other skeletons are hiding in the closet?

– P

* How things are done on ‘Planet Key’?