Why Are We Letting Our Politicians Act Like Schoolyard Thugs?

Toxic bids to seek political advantage are undermining democracy and damaging stability in New Zealand, writes PAT PILCHER.

 

Former Labour MP Clare Curran

The Spinoff recently ran an interview with former Dunedin MP, Clare Curran, on her unceremonious exit from politics. Reading how a politician left the game is about as exciting as reading about paint drying. However,  this interview was both compelling and thought-provoking for several reasons.

Curran provides a frank assessment of what must be one of the most traumatic episodes of her life. Standing up in front of an entire country to re-tell a public fall from grace takes a lot of guts. The sheer honesty of Curran’s story makes for some insightful reading.

The downfall of Curran was as public as it was distressing to watch. Smelling blood in the water, the Nats went after Curran via media proxies and in Parliament question time. Watching from the outside looking in, her struggle seemed traumatic. Reading her description of it is horrendous.

“I remember a sensation of pressure that built up, and quite honestly, during those first few days I felt like I was literally going to die.”

National leader Todd Muller

Where it gets interesting is what has and has not happened since the story ran. National’s new leader, Todd Muller, has remained silent. You could argue that he has his hands full trying to keep the National Party afloat as it continues to tank in the polls. Adding to his woes is the exodus of talent as disgruntled senior MPs continue to leave. That aside, Muller’s silence also points to something far nastier at the very heart of the National party.

It isn’t the first time that the blue team has resorted to dirty politics. Targeted attacks via media proxies and whispering campaigns are part of National’s political playbook.

In 2018, rumours swirled alleging that the PM’s fiance was under police investigation. These rumours were later debunked by police. More recently, a coordinated political hit job took down the minister of health, David Clark. While no direct links to the Nats surfaced from the innuendo aimed at the PM’s fiance, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see who stood to gain the most.

If there’s any doubt around the targeted nature of these attacks, the response of ex-National party, now independent MP, Jamie Lee Ross is particularly telling. According to Ross, National operated like a pack of wolves taking down Curran.

Nicky Hager’s book was published in 2014. Dirty politics continues…

“I was in the 8 am strategy meetings when we were deciding to throw everything we had at her. I was in the morning procedures meetings as Melissa Lee would share what her latest hit on Clare was going to be. Clare was a weak link. National wanted to break her. And we did. Watching those question time answers, from about 10 metres away, you could pinpoint the very moment her career ended. I can only now imagine what it felt like. But at the time all we felt was excitement and success.”

I can already hear outraged National party supporters yelling that Ross has an axe to grind with the Nats. I don’t dispute that, but most telling of all, no one from the National party has denied his comments. Adding insult to injury, Curran shares a disturbing photo showing National’s shadow minister of health, Michael Woodhouse, holding a blue toilet seat with her photo taped to it.

The photo doesn’t add to an already less than flattering portrait of Woodhouse. From his tenuous claims of kisses and cuddles between the two COVID-positive women and friends, he also refuses to admit that the phantom homeless man who he claims wangled his way into a quarantined hotel doesn’t actually exist, despite exhaustive investigations by the police that have failed to find any evidence of him. It is fair to say that there are plenty who doubt his credibility.

The photo of him appearing to invite people to piss on a fellow member of parliament seals the deal. The outrage on social media was as swift as National’s silence is complete. Many are asking when this sort of behaviour was ever okay. They argue that while the past 18 months have seen a steady stream of high-profile people fall from grace because of their mistreatment of women, why should Woodhouse get away with similar behaviour?

In 2018, destructive innuendo surfaced about the PM’s fiance, Clarke Gayford

Woodhouse’s behaviour they say, should be enough to warrant both public censure from National party leader, Todd Muller, and a public apology by Woodhouse. Yet there is radio silence from the National party.

The most shocking thing of all is how we, the voting public, are accepting of dirty politics. Shouldn’t we be asking some tough questions of everyone involved? We need to be taking steps to ensure that this political skulduggery stops.

All political parties, left, right and centre need to focus on doing their actual jobs. That is the debating and creating of policies that will help us all prosper, instead of acting like childish schoolyard thugs. By not expressing our disgust, we are in effect, condoning shitty political behaviour. We will all become poorer for it.

These toxic bids to seek political advantage undermine politics in New Zealand. The role of a government is to make sure society runs without a hitch and that it is a fair and safe place for its citizens. As good as that sounds, there’s some truth to the old saying that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Therefore, we have opposition parties.

Their job is to hold the government to account, and to ensure that everything operates above-board. When this arrangement works, sensible political decisions get made and we all prosper.

Now, it appears that political processes are being de-railed. Holding the government to account seems to have taken a back seat to targeted attacks aimed at weakening the government for political gain. It needs to stop.

So, here’s a simple message to our politicians. If you care about what is best for New Zealand, stop behaving like childish bullies. Argue politics, not the politician. Oh, and for fuck’s sake, leave politicians’ families out of it.

Stop with the dirty politics. Us voters are not stupid.

5 Comments

  1. For me, the miserable nasty politicians began with Mulldoon, particularly in his treatment of Marilyn Warren . There have been many fine people in Government since then but the media have mostly ignored our real statesmen and women for the easy headlines that the show off bullies provide.

  2. Jayne Bolsover

    My thoughts exactly Pat and so well written. I will be sharing this widely and so, in my opinion, should other people.

  3. I don’t think the public are accepting of dirty politics. We just haven’t known about the detail. I sassumed that David Clark has gone because he was not on the ball. He was the one who threw Dr Bloomfield under the bus. National didn’t do that. If Clark was smarter on his feet he wouldn’t have gone.

  4. Hi Liz,

    Regarding David Clark, While there is no denying that he made his fair share of mistakes, the shorter video interview where he discusses Ashley Bloomfield ends before the rest of what Clark said about Bloomfield could be recorded. The story also frames the issue with the “thrown under the bus” headline, which was subsequently picked up via the rest of the media and online via social media. If you watch the RNZ video interview with David Clark, a very different perspective emerges.

    A lot of what we take as a given with the media often comes down to how an issue is framed and while media should ideally be impartial and stick to facts, the increasingly partisan nature of our media means we need to view their commentary critically…

  5. Well written, Pat. My sentiments entirely. Evidence-based critique is fine as a way of holding any sitting government to account. But baseless criticism, half truths, lies and personal attacks are not OK. Opposition for opposition’s sake is also not OK. Todd Muller started out right when he said as much, but character assassination still seems to be alive and well in the National Party. Todd Muller, by his own saying, admires American politics. ‘Divide and Conquer’ is how I describe what’s going on in the USA. Let’s keep it out of Kiwi Land.

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