Francesca Rudkin: No one's immune to gaffes

Publish Date
Sat, 21 Sep 2019, 10:24AM
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / File)

Francesca Rudkin: No one's immune to gaffes

Publish Date
Sat, 21 Sep 2019, 10:24AM

I was quite bemused this week to see Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern make headlines for her gaffe straight off the plane in Japan, when she accidentally said it was an "incredibly exciting time for New Zealand in its relationship with China - excuse me sorry, with Japan".

As a person who, while looking at my 13 year old son, still call him his sister’s name, and likewise her him, I didn’t think this was a terrible newsworthy story. Frazzled brains…. We all have them sometimes.

It wasn’t an ideal slip for the Prime Minister, whose job it is to represent us on the world stage, and not a perfect start to the first trip to Japan by a New Zealand Prime Minister since the CPTPP trading agreement was signed.

But the Prime Minister corrected herself immediately, and I’m sure the Japanese Prime Minister, a man considerate enough to console Ardern on the loss of her cat, accepted the gaffe in good grace, as a simple, jet lag induced mistake.

A headline? No. A side comment? Yes.

It was hardly the worst gaffe made by a politician this week. The man once mistaken as her husband, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was outed as a fan of black face and brown face. He too apologised quickly, but it will be sometime before the outcries of hypocrite die down towards this very woke liberal.

Gaffes are a right of passage for politicians. They remind us they’re really just like the rest of us, and they add some levity to the world of politics. I still giggle when I think about Donald Trump calling Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tim Apple earlier in the year … because everyone calls their company after themselves.

Then there was John Key and ponygate, the three way handshake at the Rugby World Cup and the use of the word gay to describe a radio host’s shirt. No one is immune. 

And things were much worse for an earlier Japanese Prime Minister. In 1992, during a dinner, US President George HW Bush vomited on the then Japanese Prime Minister and slumped into unconsciousness. Dose of the flu was to blame apparently. He also gave Australians the fingers – unaware that in this part of the world you need to flick the hand around to make the peace sign.

His son got into trouble as well. In 2006, US president George Bush forgot the rule about personal space and greeted Angela Merkel at a G8 summit with a shoulder massage. She responded like she was being attacked.

Former Australian Prime Minister and Mandarin speaking Kevin Rudd was a foreign diplomat when on a trip to China he declared China and Australia were "currently experiencing fantastic mutual orgasm". Which may or may not have been true.

And then of course there’s Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, who have seemingly been happy to put on the record a litany of comments and gags that are by turns outspoken, insulting, awkward and insensitive.

I prefer Boris. I doubt he’s been on a zipline again after getting stuck mid-air while promoting the London Olympics. The pictures are hilarious – nowhere to hide.

He’s well known for his colourful descriptions of people. When Donald Trump was running for President, Boris described him as "frankly unfit to hold the office of president of the United States". He didn’t stop there. He compared Hillary Clinton to "a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital".

Then there was the time he rugby-tackled a 10-year-old boy in a game of touch rugby in Japan and compared the EU to Hitler.

And now he has been rewarded with the most thankless, impossible, contentious job in politics. Karma maybe?

So, a small gaffe here and there is perfectly acceptable from our leaders and politicians – in seems like a prerequisite when you look at them around the world today.

Let’s hope for a good couple of clangers when the Prime Minister meets President Trump next week. Just to lighten the mood.