Duncan Garner: Stick to plain English: We're all cringing at PM's social media silliness video

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After the Prime Minister took a pot shot at the US TV host, the comeback was swift and brutal.

OPINION: After eight years behind the scenes, totally mastering the art of boring us all to a slow, painful death, Bill English has been forced to step out from the shadows. 

The attempt to re-cast the prime minister as a fun-loving, hard-exercising, sheep-shearing, pizza-making family man – clumsily advised and poorly executed – is truly cringeworthy to watch.

English has clearly been told to dig around for a personality - and promote it on social media. The result is a mawkish, awkward attempt to re-package him as something he's not: John Key.

Prime Minister Bill English savours a slice of pizza with celebrity chef Nadia Lim.
BILL ENGLISH/TWITTER

Prime Minister Bill English savours a slice of pizza with celebrity chef Nadia Lim.

It's not just sharp-tongued Last Week Tonight TV host John Oliver who thinks it's downright cringeworthy. I think a good chunk of us feel English's pain.

READ MORE:
John Oliver tears PM Bill English to shreds
* Bill English says John Oliver 'isn't very funny'
Oliver rips into NZ again, this time at National's expense
English makes family dinner and it looks pretty Southland

 
The infamous home-cooked pizza.
BILL ENGLISH/FACEBOOK

The infamous home-cooked pizza.

He's like a goofy dad being dragged onto the dancefloor by his new, much younger girlfriend. Nothing moves the way it should (most men know this feeling on a dancefloor).

It's election year and English has been advised to show us the man behind the dull facade to appeal to voters. The problem is he's clearly not comfortable doing this so it appears forced and awkward.

There's no doubt English is a good father, for 15 years a nappy changer, he'd rush home to do the right thing rather than hang around Parliament to eat and drink.

He was an MP by day and dad the rest of the time. We need more men like this in society. Problem is none of that authentic natural material has made it on to social media yet.

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His problem is he's no extroverted show pony – this social media show-off stuff is beneath him. He gets the job done at home and at work and the world isn't set on fire. And that's just how he likes it.

Except now he's the PM and he's somehow got to have a genuine social media presence. I'm still not sure it's working for English. He's good on a farm, and in the shearing shed - maybe limit it to what he's natural at. The rest of it is like a bad movie.

I played a few games of rugby with English in the 1990s. He's actually a tough little bugger - and fit, too. That needs to be captured. He's just not flash at sounding too excited is he?

Let's be honest, Bill does bland, sensible and responsible well. And he had to. Indeed not just for the past eight years, but the last two decades.

He did try his hand at populism as National's leader in 2002, he pulled out a haka on the waterfront and got beat up in the boxing ring - and returned the party's worst ever result for his troubles.

Poor bugger. The problem is he is not Key, who was the master of soft media. Because it came naturally to him. English, and let's not forget he was a Treasury wonk too, would far prefer to be in front of a good set of numbers analysing whether benefit levels have reduced.

Take it from me, English is not bad company. He's real, bright and engaging. I've had fantastic, private one-on-one chats with him over the years.

He's a likeable bloke. But he's out of his depth on social media. It feels forced.

As Key minced down the catwalk, planked on social media with his son and stupidly joked about rape on commercial radio, boring old Bill crunched the numbers and ran the country. But at least English isn't alone in trying to pull more votes by trying to be 'normal and real.'

Andrew Little has hired an acting coach to help him win the election. Ross Jolly has his work cut out.

Before him David Cunliffe was best advised to stay off all forms of social and mainstream media as the more we saw of Cunliffe the more we were sorry he was a man.

Before that, David Shearer pulled out a guitar to try and look in touch. And before that Phil Goff grabbed his motorbike and some cheap auburn rose hair dye in a vain attempt to look cooler. None of the above worked.

Then there was Helen Clark. She looked remarkably different to her campaign photo, but the public didn't care. Former TV man Brian Edwards taught her one crucial thing: to smile. And she did so mainly through gritted teeth.

She was also told to get a better haircut and wear makeup. Clark hated it, but understood the importance.

Politics can sometimes be a beauty pageant, or at least a popularity contest.

But here's my little warning for what it's worth: Voters smell bullshit a mile away. We know when something is forced and not real.

Authenticity is king. It's why Key was so popular - he was that lightweight social media guy.

Any attempt to mimic his style is doomed to failure. So be yourself Bill – and leave the social media silliness to the young ones.

 - Stuff

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