02 April 2016

The prime-ministerial We

John Key has been talking to his UK counterpart, David Cameron, and making bold statements on behalf of New Zealanders.
First, he is reported as coming out in support of the UK staying within the European Union in Britain's forthcoming referendum, thus supporting Cameron's position. He said: "It's up to the British people to decide, but we certainly think it's a stronger position for Britain to be in Europe." Who is this "we"? Presumably, in context, it is the NZ government of the day, his government – although probably many New Zealanders would agree with him. All the same, he drew some predictable criticism from Brexit supporters in the UK who suggested that foreign leaders should be kept out of their domestic debate.
Mr Key also advocated on behalf of NZ ex-pats in the UK, reminding Cameron of the close historical and social ties between the two nations. He said: "We are at the core ... a British colony and I thought there was an argument that New Zealanders could be treated in a way which reflected that." The "we" this time is presumably the entire nation.
But, New Zealand is no longer a colony of Britain, and it is very surprising to hear this comment from the same prime minister who only recently tried to get us to change the NZ flag, to rid it of the Union Jack, and to modernise our national symbol.
Do "we" New Zealanders really want to be treated as "colonials" when we're in the UK? I think probably not, even though "we" did vote to keep that old colonial relic of a flag.
I can understand the PM doing his job advocating for special immigration rights for Kiwis, but he does not have to talk us back into a colonial relationship with the UK in order to get the point across. The PM could clarify the position that New Zealand is an independent sovereign nation now. And he could be more careful about his use of the prime-ministerial "we".


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