Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Crazy, nasty politics

Some of you will be astonished that this is my first post about politics in all the time that we've had this blog. I've tried to spare Karla (and you all) from my junkie ways. But what's been happening in NZ politics has been too crazy to resist posting about it.

There's a lot of background I need to explain before the really juicy/crazy stuff. So please stick with me.

To start at the beginning, last November there was an election here. During that election, the Labour Party, led by Helen Clark, mailed out a big batch of what they call 'pledge cards'. Basically they're wallet sized cards that had the key planks of the Labour platform on them, with Helen Clark's picture on the front. These were sent out a few weeks before the election, which Labour eventually won.

Trouble was, it turned out Labour used public money (their parliamentary funding that all parties are entitled to help them function in Parliament) to print and mail out the cards, rather than their own political party money, which is meant to be used for election related expenses. The Chief Electoral Officer said, 'Poor form'. The Solicitor General said, 'Poor form'. And in a leaked report, the NZ Auditor General here has said, 'Very, very poor form'.

The AG's report not only implicated Labour, though. It also implicated all the other parties: the National Party (the main opposition, basically equivalent to the Tories back home), the Greens, United Future (centre rightwing), New Zealand First (rightwing), and the Progressive Party (leftwing).

According to the leaked AG report, the Labour Party had 'misspent' about $400 000, National about $10 000 and the others at amounts somewhere in between. When the controversy broke, the National Party oh so nobly paid back the ten grand that they spent improperly. They then went on a 'pay it back' campaign in parliament and the media to try and force Labour into coughing up the cash, saying they had 'stole the election' using taxpayers' dollars.

Labour replied that the AG was wrong in his assesment, blamed the administrators of the fund for allowing them to use the money improperly, and publicly mused about changing the law to allow publicy funded election campaigns, retroactive to the previous election. After several weeks they said that they simply weren't going to pay the money back, no matter what.

All this gave National all they needed to start calling Labour corrupt, which really ticked Labour off. One of their cabinet ministers, Trevor Mallard, said that he had a bunch of dirt on National MPs and was going to reveal what he knew if they didn't cool it with the corruption talk.

This is when things got really bad. Shortly after this news broke that the leader of the National Party, Don Brash was taking some days off of his duties in Parliament to attend to 'problems in his marriage'. There were rumours that Brash had been having an affair with a very prominent business woman, and that some in his caucus had questioned him on whether the rumour were true. None of this was helped by the fact that Brash had met his current wife while still married to his first. Lots of people were wondering if Brash would survive as leader of National.

Helen Clark and Labour went on the offensive. Clark said that she was looking forward to reminding Brash about 'integrity' in their next question period. Parliament had turned really nasty by this point, and hardly anything could be said in the house without the one side shouting the other down if they were trying to speak.

So pretty ugly right? It gets uglier.

Last weekend a newspaper ran a front page lead story asking if Helen Clark's husband, Peter Davis, is gay. They had a shot of him hugging and possibly kissing another man (a close friend, apparently) at a victory party following Labour's last election win. It then came out that a National activist had written a letter to a newspaper raising questions about Peter Davis' sexuality, though it wasn't clear whether his letter was the catalyst for the barely substantiated front-page story.

Obviously the PM was furious about the report, and blamed National for planting the rumours. National has been furious about the treatment of Don Brash, and blames Labour for stirring up the rumours about his alleged affair. Right now, things seem to be just plain viscious.

The whole sordid series of events seems to be doing tons of damage to the system here. Who would ever want to step into public life if they have to put up with rumours about extra-marital affairs and the sexual preference of their spouses? Most commentators here are calling it a 'new low', and I'm inclined to agree. Even BC politics isn't this mental.


Karla said...

Kinda makes me miss Canadian politics. Sure, there's corruption, but at least the media and public do everything within their power to avoid having ANY knowledge of politicians EVER having sex at all!

And so, I am most grateful for the lack of sex scandals in Canadian government for as far back as I remember... I mean, when you think of such a thing involving any of those weird-looking old dudes, it's hard not to think, "EEEWWW!"

wayne said...

sounds a lot like Aboriginal politic to me.

Ben said...

Sounds like a very low point for democracy in New Zealand to me. Thailand had a dysfunctional democracy too.

Anonymous said...

hey Ben
the state of democracy in Thailand is in disarray, yes, but the cuisine rocks - hopefully not politically influenced.

Karnage said...

I remember hearing a story about the Thailand (I think, or somewhere close by) parliament on the radio. The government was going to read some bill the opposition didn't agree with, so the opposition actually stormed the podium and tried to steal it, one of them stuffed it in her mouth. In basically ended up in a brawl and the governing party forcing it out of the opposition mp's mouth. Pretty crazy eh?

You're right though, even BC isn't that bad.

Margaret said...

Hi David,
I finally read the blog
(I've been pretty busy with back to back shows)
...and it sounds a lot like British Politics!
All you need are the tabloids!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating story David; you are quite the descriptive little story teller aren't you? Sounds like N.Zlnd doesn't have enough important policy issues to worry itself about...maybe Indonesia, Mynmar and Thailand can send some issues their way! Better yet, old Davey can put on his policy cape, storm parliament in his tighties and save the day!!!!!!!!!!