Hard News by Russell Brown


Metiria's Problem

We don't really want our politicans to be honest. Not really honest, omitting nothing, because we all omit things about ourselves, especially about our deep histories. We simply don't want to know everything about the past when we vote in the present.

This is, of course, something that may be shifted along with the technologies that don't forget. It may well be that right now on Snapchat some future Prime Minister is doing or saying something that would be disqualifying for a political career in 2017. Perhaps we'll all become more forgiving in the future.

Sometimes, of course, we appreciate disclosures in a context where we might not have demanded them up front. When every MP on a recent Back Benches panel acknowledged having smoked pot at some point, in response to a direct question from the host, only a weasel would have lied. Even the tried-it-once-but-it-wasn't-my-thing response sounds a bit ropey these days. The strangest thing about John Key's insistence that he had never at any time dabbled in anything was that it was probably true.

There are also situations where a politician is found to have done something so odious in the deep past that it is untenable that they remain. Stealing a dead baby's identity to falsely obtain a passport did that for Act's David Garrett.

The revelation was, of course, compounded by Garrett's self-branding as a champion of the most unforgiving approach to law and order. And also by the fact that Garrett lied even as he admitted to the passport fraud, declaring his recent record clear when – as it transpired only a day after the first story broke – he actually had a 2002 assault conviction. Act's leader Rodney Hide stopped defending Garrett after that, even though the party actually knew about the assault conviction. Garrett resigned first from Act and soon from Parliament.

It's that last one the Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei might contemplate as her initial, bold admission to not being entirely honest about her accommodation circumstances has turned out to be less clear-cut than it appeared. It has transpired that for some time, her own mother was one of her flatmates as she raised her baby on the benefit. And that she was registered as living at the same address as the father of her child – but only because she'd falsely registered that address as hers so she could vote for her friend in an election.

Our lives aren't always lived within the clean lines of the rules, and the vote  she cast for a McGillicuddy Serious Party candidate was hardly about to change the balance of power. None of this is truly odious. But this was a topic Turei opened as a political act and it's on her that there is more to it than she told us at first. If you're going to confess, even for the purpose of opening an important debate, you'd best not be selective about the messy bits.

My friends on Twitter demanding that the Labour leadership rides in on a horse to defend its coalition partner are dreaming. This wasn't Labour's political gamble to take and two thirds of its own voters told a Newshub poll they didn't approve of her deceit (not to mention an even greater proportion of the parties it wants to take votes from and fully half of Green voters).

Of course, the poll question begged a certain response. Was it wrong of Metiria Turei to lie to get a bigger benefit? plays differently to Was it wrong of Metiria Turei to misstate her living arrangements so she could feed her baby? And no one – no one – is actually a stickler for the idea that past criminal offences should end present political careers. Were that so, we'd be howling for the heads of every member who has confessed to committing crimes under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

As I've been writing this post, the news has come through that Turei now says she will not take a ministerial role should Labour and the Greens be in a position to form the next goverment. That's a crying shame, because she has so much to offer politically and personally. But she and her party lost control of the narrative they launched themselves. If you're going to take a political gamble, you'd best best sure exactly what the odds are.

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