Karl du Fresne
OPINION: Acute sensitivity disorder has broken out again. The latest outbreak was touched off by Prime Minister John Key's comment that a radio interviewer's red jersey looked a bit "gay".
As predictably as Pavlov's dogs learned to salivate at the sound of a bell, the gay lobby rose up in anger.
Protesters labelled it a slur against gays and took to the streets wearing red tops as a gesture of solidarity. Sir Ian McKellen, perhaps mistakenly thinking his on-screen aura of Gandalfian wisdom has somehow carried over into real life, went online to register his dismay.
I suspect most New Zealanders would have viewed the fuss with an air of worldly resignation. They have become well-accustomed to minority groups rearing up on their hind legs at every imagined slight.
If the gay rights lobby is to be believed, Mr Key's statement was likely to excite prejudice against gay men. But what's more likely to generate a backlash is the fuss gay activists make every time someone says something that might be construed, however tenuously, as an attack on them.
In many people's eyes, it reinforces the impression – am I allowed to say this? – that they are a bit precious. We live in a robust, liberal democracy. People say things every day that could cause upset if the maligned parties were of a mind to take offence. Most of us manage to ignore it and get on with life.
In Mr Key's case, he was merely making an attempt to sound blokey in order to connect with that radio programme's audience.
No-one can seriously accuse him of being anti-gay. How quickly his critics forget that he has ingratiated himself with gay men, too – for example, by speaking at the Big Gay Out rally in Auckland last February and posing for photographs with transvestites.
That's what politicians do: pander to whichever group they happen to be addressing at the time. But surely there are far worse things a prime minister could be accused of than trying to be one of the boys.
Dear me. The Labour Party's problems are graver than I thought.
At the party's annual conference on Sunday, leader David Shearer will deliver a speech that is being treated as a make-or-break moment. Many in the party are unhappy with his performance and will look to his address for a sign one way or another: either he can galvanise Labour with an inspirational, visionary speech or he becomes a footnote in the party's history.
Trying to shore up his credentials in an article published in this paper last week, Mr Shearer was reported as saying: "I believe I have very strong views. I am very value-driven as a politician." He went on to say he had lived the values of "opportunity, fairness and giving people a fair go".
Is that the best he can do? He "believes" he has strong views? Is he waiting for confirmation from someone else? Such language is likely to reinforce suspicions about his lack of fire.
And how strikingly unoriginal to say he believes in "fairness" and a "fair go". Show me a politician who doesn't profess to believe in a fair go. It's probably the most shop-soiled cliche in the politician's lexicon.
Mr Shearer's comments hardly seem likely to create a sense of feverish anticipation. But then, are his prospective rivals any more promising?
The Listener recently published a profile of another Labour Party David, the ambitious David Cunliffe, and it seems he too has trouble breaking out of the cliche trap. In his own words, he has certain ideals and values "and they are about fairness, about equity, about opportunity and it's good old Kiwi stuff, you know".
Wow. There's fresh thinking for you. Isn't there anyone in the Labour hierarchy capable of elevating the political dialogue above the level of a 1960s bumper-sticker?
I was astonished recently to see a BBC correspondent named Jeremy Bowen reporting from the Middle East on One News.
How did this bloke ever get on television? He's male, for a start, and he's more than 50 years old – a veritable fossil. He's got thinning grey hair and an unfashionable moustache. Doesn't the BBC have any respect for its viewers?
Then there's Orla Guerin, another BBC reporter who keeps popping up in world trouble spots. At least she's female, but come on – she's 46 years old!
What's more, she doesn't seem to care too much about her appearance. She doesn't even wear makeup. Can't they find her a backroom job somewhere?
How much nicer to see the pretty young things TVNZ and TV3 employ. Thank God our own broadcasters still strive to maintain some sort of basic standard, even if the Beeb doesn't.
- The Dominion Post