Want to know how to become simultaneously the most popular and the most unpopular man in Wellington? Ask Maurice Williamson.
The National Party Annual Conference doesn't rank up there on the top ten junkets a political reporter has to cover, not when the alternative is following Helen Clark to London or Ruth Dyson to New York. Making it even more attractive, this Meeting of the Minds took place in Christchurch. Still further boosting its attractiveness to those in attendance was the fact that they would no doubt get to mingle with the likes of Roger Sowry and Wayne Mapp. Remind me why no-one votes for National any more?
And then on the first day, God created Maurice. As the leader began his opening address, and the Mark Sainsbury's and Barry Soper's of this world were fluffing up their pillows ready to go nighnighs, he struck. Enter stage left The Pakuranga Panther, clad in purple lycra (reportedly borrowed from Michael Laws), who walks up to the podium and Bad Bill English, grabs as substantial a handful of his short back 'n' side coiffure as is possible, repeatedly slams his head into the corner post (accompanied by much grunting and foot stomping, for added effect) before finishing him off with a clothesline to the jugular.
The conference is stunned. Katherine Rich doesn't know what to think, possibly not for the first time. The assembled journalists, still half asleep, are last seen crossing themselves before dragging their duvets out to the lobby where they can file report after breaking report on the incident.
You can't buy this kind of publicity. If only he was on their side. The whole weekend, the National Party Conference was all over the media, when it would otherwise be confined to the obligatory two minute report each day: "And once again Judy, National are talking about one standard of citizensshs.sh...szzzzzz".
Of course, what Maurice was saying wasn't particularly new either: "Bill English has to go." The only difference in this latest message is that rather than throwing him out now, his tenure is tied to a performance target, based on the party's polling. If the people don’t like you, you're out. Hardly a radical concept – it's known as the political system – although one the National Party hasn't seemed to accept for some time now.
Of course Maurice's timing left something to be desired, and he of course would have known that. What might have been a reasonable suggestion in the right time, right place, can only appear treasonous delivered as it was. Williamson now faces censure, possible expulsion from caucus, the party and therefore maybe Parliament, which would force a byelection.
National are constantly being reminded that the last time this happened, the result was the creation of a monster who on current ratings is more than twice as popular with the people as English, and his party not far behind. Not that anyone is suggesting the Bearded Brutus will ever be as much a hit as the Man in the Double-Breasted Suit is with the ladies, but National needs a further split about as much as it needs Don Brash as leader. Or Roger Sowry. Or Gerry Brownlee. Things really aren't looking good, are they?
On this point, uncharacteristically good political point-scoring by John Tamihere, coming out in support of Maurice Williamson's "honesty", saying he didn't deserve to be punished for Telling It Like It Is. Not only does it reinforce Tamihere's 'no bullshit' stance, it's a great way to have a swipe at the Nats while doing it.
Oh, as it's my first time 'n' all, I'd like to point out that I've got a book review in the Listener this coming issue. Check it.