Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The politics of personal destruction

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.


I think the comparison with traffic offenses was that there are many infringements and not many prosecutions - rather than in reference to the severity.

The article didn't say what the penalties under the less severe sections fo the act were but they're still likely to be more than a traffic ticket, I'd have thought.

Not that this reflects my opinion on anything - I'm not sur eI've got one at the moment.

Posted by Lyndon : 3/22/2006 12:22:00 PM

Lyndon: Yes - but at the same time that makes it clear that they're both relatively common, and enforcement is based on warning people to clean their act up, rather than prosecution. While Parker could be facing five year's jail, in practice even being taken to court would be highly unusual.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/22/2006 12:40:00 PM

"It's quite another to dig up and inflate minor offences from long ago, as in this case."

Dig up - sure.
Inflate - sure.
Minor Offence - sure.

Long ago - not on your life.

Three of the misleading declarations occurred whilst Mr Parker was an MP; the latest in September last year - the month before he was appointed Attorney-General. And, thinking about it, the next would have occurred in a few months' time.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/22/2006 08:34:00 PM


You may be right. But I admit to raising an eyebrow at Adam Feeley drawing the traffic ticket analogy at all, given that Mr Parker is the subject of an ongoing investigation.

I'm not saying there's any sinister bias on the part of the Acting Registrar of Companies, I just thought he'd be a little more circumspect about sticking to laying out the process and no more.

Also, I think it's a rather bad analogy to make because successive governments have regarded traffic enforcement and driver education as a high priority for more than a decade. I've certainly never seen a Transport or Police Minister stand up and say that there are too many people being fined or prosecuted for traffic offenses, and the Police need to lighten up — talkback radio and newspaper letters columns are quite another matter. :)

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 3/23/2006 12:54:00 AM

With the current standards of Labour MPs not answering legitmate questions in the House about their portfolios and the speaker allowing them to do so it's no wonder that the opposition has decided to use the tactics it's has.

There have been so many times when a question is asked by the opposition and by the end of it you still have not got an answer from the Labour MP.

Some of the tactics used so far have been not to even answer the question, make some snide remark and the speaker ruling has been if you do not like the answer tough.

You ask the question of an MP about a previous answer they gave that was wrong and you get it's no longer my portfilio so I do not have to answer that question and the speaker allows this to happen.

The new tactic yesterday of I was talking as a different person not an MP and the speaker rules this is OK.

Give me a fricken break - this is crap.

If in parliment the government can't be held to account then where can it be held to account.

Labour has brought parliament down to this standard and they have only themsevles to blame for past indiscretions.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/23/2006 12:45:00 PM