Monday, August 27, 2007

When the Poultry Comes Home To Roost...

Politics can be a dirty game. Just ask Don Brash.

Having inherited the leadership of the National Party after its biggest ever election defeat in 2002 to within a whisker of winning the Treasury benches in 2005, it was always clear that Labour’s knives would be out for him.

It is an unwritten convention in New Zealand politics that while politicians themselves are fair game, an attack that is likely to bring harm against the family of the politician isn’t. The Press Gallery generally cooperate with this. Thus when Trevor Mallard and David Benson-Pope claimed under parliamentary privilege that Brash was involved with another woman, Brash decided he’d had enough of politics: that his family and personal life were more important than becoming Prime Minister.

It is the nature of parliamentary life that MPs spend most of their time away from their families. This puts a strain on their relationships. They are also permanently in the public spotlight, and are subject to the kinds of temptations away from home that they simply weren’t exposed to prior to coming to Wellington.

MPs from all sides of the House have, in the past, suffered marital breakdown. It isn’t new in politics. It’s also not uncommon for a jilted spouse, out of spite, to break the story: thus David Lange’s split with his wife hit the headlines in 1989. So too did Don McKinnon’s, some years later, in similar circumstances.

The story is never about the break-up, or the infidelity, for good reason. Gallery journalists are not immune to aphrodisiacs of fame and power, and are frequently too close to the political players to risk damaging media relationships about matters that the public doesn’t want to hear about. Yet when a jilted wife decides to out her husband for having an affair that has led to the end of a long-term marriage, the story gathers a degree of legitimacy.

So too is there legitimacy around a public figure making public, moral statements that are at odds with their behaviour. The hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich, then speaker of the US house of representatives, leading the charge against Bill Clinton, after thrice-married Gingrich had served divorce papers against his critically ill wife while he was having an affair, made Gingrich a legitimate target. Brazen hypocrisy, as Gingrich found, is bad politics.

So too is the story of Trevor Mallard’s marital split legitimate. This is the same man who hounded Don Brash out of public office. It is simply cowardly for the Gallery to put Mallard’s break-up—which they have known about for two months, after Mallard went around the Gallery explaining it to them, and how he expected them to respect his privacy—in the context of all the other failed marriages in politics.

Again, the story isn’t about Mallard’s marital split: it’s about the hypocrisy of a man who deliberately conspired to dirty political life in New Zealand for political gain, engaging in the same kind of behaviour that he alleged of Don Brash.

Trevor Mallard’s family legitimately deserve privacy at this time. Mallard himself doesn’t deserve. It has been well known in Wellington for some time that Mallard’s marital split has not come about simply due to the stresses and strains of political life: there is another person involved. It is time the media fronted up and asked Mallard the hard question: in light of the way he used Don Brash’s personal life to destroy Brash’s will to continue in politics, what right does Mallard think he has to be treated with respect and privacy when his marriage breaks down?

5 comments:

Tane said...

You don't think the release of the Hollow Men might have had something to do with Brash stepping down from politics?

Anonymous said...

you're even more of a snivelling coward for refusing to publish the comment I made yesterday.

Insolent Prick said...

Anonymous,
I've only blocked four comments in the last two years. Your comment wasn't one of them.

Anonymous said...

IP,

Some of come to your blog just to see the vitriolic rhetoric with which you dismiss whining commenters. That was a bit of a lame response to anonymous.

More insolence please.

Flash

Anonymous said...

"you're even more of a snivelling coward for refusing to publish the comment I made yesterday"

Anonymous - why don't you sign in with a username so we know who you are? Coward.