Prime minister might be a powerful job in New Zealand. But not as powerful as Gandalf.
And John Key is left looking like a foolish little Hobbit this morning by the man who plays the Tolkien wizard in the Peter Jackson films, Sir Ian McKellen.
McKellen, who has just about reached national treasure status in New Zealand, owing to his work for various charitable causes, rather good acting and all-round likeability, has published a short blog post gently and calmly upbraiding the PM over those “gay red top” remarks.
New Zealand has an undeserved reputation (amongst those who have never visited) as living a little in the past, not quite up-to-date with the world elsewhere. As a regular visitor, I’ve often pointed out how, on social issues, the Kiwis have lead the world – first country to give women the vote, a nuclear-free stronghold and in the vanguard of civil rights for gay people.
Which brings me to John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand. Recently in a light-hearted radio interview he referred to his host wearing a “gay red top,” by which he meant, apparently, “a weird red shirt.” Defending himself later, he said he was using the word in the sense that his children used it and not in any way to disparage gay people. Anyway, he said, the word was in the dictionary. So of course are many other words that can give offence.
Nevertheless, Mr Key should watch his language. I’m currently touring secondary schools in UK, attacking homophobia in the playground and discouraging kids from the careless use of “gay” which might make their gay friends (and teachers) feel less about themselves. So even as he supports the proposal to introduce same-gender marriages in New Zealand, I do hope John Key listens to his critics and appreciates their concern. Careless talk damages lives.