Brian Easton's Listener column this week has a snippet which is interesting in light of David Parker's resignation. After pointing out that oppositions frequently don't have coherent or concrete policies (as generally speaking, they don't need them), he goes on to say
The way of covering the policy deficit is an unremitting string of personality attacks, often based on thin allegations, punctuated by feeble calls of "resign", no matter how distant the Cabinet minister was from the alleged problem. It is surely enough to make a decent person shun a career in Parliament.
It's a point echoed by The Dominion this morning, in asking Who'd want to be an MP? Most people are not saints, and as Easton point out, these sorts of attacks undermine good governance, by both undermining faith in government as an institution, and by discouraging talented people from entering politics for fear that their personal lives will be dragged through the mud for political advantage.
Now, calling on Ministers to resign is what oppositions do. But you really have to wonder whether the dirt-grubbing of the current opposition (and its underpant-sniffing allies in ACT and Investigate) are getting a little over the top. It is one thing to hold the government to account for malfeasance or incompetence in office (as with Taito Philip Field, Lianne Dalziel, or going back further, Tuariki Delamere and Murry McCully) or personal failings while actually in Parliament (Ruth Dyson and Dover Samuels), or serious allegations which call into question their suitability to be a Minister (David Benson-Pope, before he dug himself a hole by lying to Parliament). It's quite another to dig up and inflate minor offences from long ago, as in this case. David Parker has behaved honourably in resigning, and he should have as Attorney-General simply to maintain credibility, but at the same time the Companies Office has pointed out that these offences are on the level of traffic offences, and only very rarely result in prosecution. If that's the new bar for holding a Ministerial warrant, then I think we'll find very few people able to be Ministers.
Or, to give this a concrete form, Don Brash admitted on live television last night that he had, at some unspecified time in the past, broken the speed limit. I don't think that makes him unsuitable to be Leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister - but by the Opposition's own standards, it does.
That's the problem with the politics of personal destruction - eventually it destroys everyone. And I think that National and its friends had really better watch out, because the precedent they're setting is really going to come back to bite them when its them on the Ministerial benches.