Lowering the tone

May 23, 2014

Debate in parliament can be robust, it can also be personal and in the past week there’s been a lowering of the tone with a descent into nastiness:

NZ First leader Winston Peters is known for his expensive suits but he triggered a Savile row of a different nature when he turned on ex-NZ First MP Brendan Horan this week. To say there is bad blood between the two is an insult to leukemia. The loathing runs deeper than the Marianas Trench, as wide as the mouth of the Amazon.

But to do as Peters did, and to describe Horan as “the Jimmy Savile of NZ politics”  – and to do so not once but twice in what was clearly a calculated insult – takes it to a whole new level. Savile, the deceased British “celebrity” who sexually preyed on young, often handicapped, girls, is the nuclear option of insults. It all looked a bit desperate. You cannot make such a comment without backing it up with some evidence.

Yet Peters not only failed to do so, but failed to front in Parliament the following day, when Horan had signalled he would reveal his own deep scandal about NZ First.

It left the rest of the NZ First MPs – who tend to resemble a bunch of ageing Social Creditors with anger management issues at the best of times – making a shambles of trying to use Parliament’s standing orders to block their former colleague.

In the end, Horan’s revelations Peters was using the leader’s budget for electioneering and campaigning expenses, namely software and staff, proved something of a damp squib. It is still far from clear NZ First is doing anything wrong with its Parliamentary funding, although no doubt the party does – like all the others – push it right up to the edge of the rules. . .

New Zealand wasn’t the only party guilty of lowering the tone:

Back in February, Trans-Tasman (14/1933) called attention to what it saw as a “crusty, even nasty, undertone” in political debate. This week the tone was definitely nasty, and it wasn’t an undertone. Winston Peters was slugging it out with his onetime colleague, now independent MP, Brendan Horan labelling him the “Jimmy Savile of NZ politics.” Judging by the sycophantic responses from other NZ First MPs, it was a rehearsed line to put down Horan, who had been trying to table NZ First board meeting minutes, telling Parliament they “point to improper use of taxpayer money.” Just as unpleasant was the tweet from Green MP Jan Logie – “John Key says Bill English has produced as many Budgets as children. Begs the question who he has f&%d to produce it.” Logie subsequently apologised for the comment, but it showed how far current Green MPs have moved from the high standards of former leaders the late Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons. . .

It’s not only far from the standards of the past, it’s a long way from the current code of conduct for Green MPs and the lowering of tone has resulted in a call for MPs to mind their manners:

Prime Minister John Key is warning MPs to behave following what he describes as “a nasty streak” running through Parliament. . . 

Mr Key said on Thursday that politicians risk offending the public with nasty behaviour or mindless tweets.

“Political parties actually need to think about that a little bit. We’re seeing tweets that I think have been wholly inappropriate, we’ve seen all sorts of allegations been made that are unfounded.

“It’s one thing to have parliamentary privilege – it’s quite another thing to actually say those things, because actually they do have repercussions, they do send ripples through the community.”

Mr Key said a tweet is no different from a media statement.

The sort of nastiness that’s been exhibited in the past week is what puts a lot of people off politics.

It adds to the negative view many have of politicians.

And it puts the focus on the petty and personal instead of the principles and policies which really matter.


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