And then he makes a joke of it, to a bunch of his own kind, a gathering of business people (mostly men, we can safely assume). And doubtless he received a gale of forced laughter from his expense account audience. It's the way he tells them: the little lady should "stick to acting." I wonder if he told them about the lobby correspondent who is known as the Whale Rider, for her activities with a blubbery member of his caucus. I guess not: it is all about timing.
But now he is prepared to see Ms Castle-Hughes, at some time. You see, it is all about perception. When he is making sneering comments to an audience of fellow fat-cats, Ms Castle-Hughes is just a nuisance. But when the local media pick up the story, Mr Key is Mr Nice Guy once more. It is a tricky business, politics, but one that is safe in the hands of one as tricky as Mr Key.
It is much the same with the expenses. Now Mr Key and his kind doubtless are accustomed to taking whatever is there for the taking: it is all about expenses and bonuses and options. Mr Key, remember, did not get where he is today by risking any of his own money: he became a multi-millionaire while remaining an employee. But, unfortunately, Mr English got a taste for public money, which is not the same thing.
You see, that nice Mr Key and the recently-married Dr Smith released the details of how much Mr English and his chums were receiving from the public purse, as Ministers of the Crown. Of course, Mr Key is very rich and so does not need to claim anything. But Mr English and his chums were not as rich as they thought they should be, so they had arranged for the rules to be changed to allow them to claim more. Mr English, having had the good fortune to become Finance Minister, had seen a new source of Finance. He arranged for Ministerial Services to lease his home, but also to let him continue living in it. That way he could claim an allowance for an Official Residence without having to leave home. So, rather than the paltry allowance of $24, 000 which the grubby backbenchers receive, he could get $42,000. There is more to it than that, as Gordon Campbell explains.
When he was found out, he did what any Tory would do when his back is up against the wall: he blamed everybody else. He claimed that he was just looking after his family and that he had taken the advice of the pen-pushers in Ministerial Services, who said everything would be alright. Then he got the wobblies and paid back a large chunk of his ill-gotten gains. Even when he was writing the cheque (and thus sealing his fate) Mr English talked as if this were an abstract issue with which he had no personal concern. He spoke of perceptions: having the very important job of Finance Minister, he had to lead by example and show that everything is above board. Presumably, if he were Minister for Racing (note to overseas readers: I am not making this up - we really do have a Minister for Racing) it would matter less. It was all rather sad, really.
Throughout this unfortunate episode, Mr Key has backed Mr English to the hilt, whilst allowing him to get shafted. Note especially his response to the question by Vernon Small about whether Mr English's good fortune was the result of a coincidence: "that is my understanding." A brilliant answer, which both shuns responsibility and paints a huge target marker on Mr English. This is the stuff of Restoration tragedies, and perhaps should be enjoyed as a sport. Mr Key did not get where he is today by being nice.
Of course, it is all about personal responsibility. Only the week before, the Minister for Social Development, Ms Paula Bennett, was showing two beneficiaries that they must take responsibility for speaking out of turn. The wolf in leopard-skin clothing did so by revealing the details of those women's benefits. And now Mr Key is showing Mr English that he must take responsibility for having opposed Dr Brash, by revealing Mr English's benefits.
Meanwhile, the clouds of perception rise up to obscure the shedding of blood. Mr Key promised us a national cycleway, to take our minds off the unemployment figures, but it did not quite work out as promised: now we are to have several "great rides," as if we are not having enough of these already. Mr Key has also brought back knights and dames, to people the merry pageant which is New Zealand and to take our minds off everything else. We are also promised car-crushing, as revenge on the young. Soon we might have the heroic deaths of our fine fighting men in Afghanistan. Mr Key, after all, is not only Prime Minister but also Minister for Tourism, and he knows how to put on a show. This is New Zealand's dreaming, a magical land of illusions and side-shows.
Yes, I know; it is not really very entertaining at all. In fact, it is horrible. The economy is going down the tubes and the Prime Minister has nothing to offer but illusions. The climate is going to places where it has never been before and he cannot quite make up his mind what to do, because he does not know who he can afford to disappoint. We are expected to wait for the revealing of our emissions target as if it were an Oscar nomination.
Fortunately for Mr Key, his opponent - Mr Goth - is about as useful as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking party. Which is just as well, since Labour is not much more than an arse-kicking party at the moment. The Greens, meanwhile, have gone ga-ga over the insulation scheme which Mr Key gave them, and so we leave them dancing round the mulberry bush. Te Maori Party simply have not got a clue. Mr Key has something of a window of opportunity. What he will do with it is anyone's guess, even his.
Oh well, at least we have The Clean. You can go here and download an excellent song from their new album. It will help ease the pain, I promise.