This is a response to the torrid commentary in NZ media in general, and in particular to an opinion piece by Finlay Macdonald that was posted on RNZ on August 9. You can read his piece here.
Of all the disgusting articles posted about Metiria Turei’s resignation, Finlay Macdonald’s contribution is particularly mean-spirited. He argues, in short, that it wasn’t the offense at the centre of the controversy – lying to Work and Income – that was bad, it was Turei’s own handling of the affair. Further, he charges that it was absurd that she should resign on the basis that the public scrutiny of her family was unbearable, because, as he puts it:
“Having invited scrutiny of her private life… If it is not too blunt to ask, what the hell did she expect?” – Finlay Macdonald on Metiria Turei.
That sent a chill to my occipital lobe, perhaps because it is self-evidently victim blaming language. She was asking for it, she should have known what would happen, bad Turei! I say this is absolutely and stunningly wrong, not only in moral terms, but as a basic political analysis.
The layers of irony in Macdonald’s piece might be funny if they were not so overdrawn. I almost expect a disclaimer that the article is a clumsy satire on media commentators becoming so saturated in parliamentary politics that they are more hack than human. At least, they have either forgotten the human element, or simply deny that it exists.
This is deep cynicism, to actually convict Turei of the heresy of not being cynical. Of not acting as a cold and ruthless political machine. Of having the temerity to be hurt when her family is bullied and harassed for nearly a month by the media, and attacked online by political opponents, and troglodytes with nothing to say that isn’t intended to hurt.
The crux of Macdonald’s argument, and I think it encapsulates the thinking of many on the centre-left, is that the damage done to the Green Party, and the left in general, is the sole responsibility of the former co-leader. Here, I smell the sterile odor of a whitewash, the clean-up crew from the political centre heaping as much rubbish onto the most prominent Māori leader the left has. All to spare their dream of a gentle change of government from centre to centre. Nevermind that it is mere weeks since Labour was itself in turmoil, no, Turei might have spoiled it all.
Therefore, if the result of the September election is that Jacinda Ardern is not Prime Minister, fault can be dumped on Turei for fatally compromising the campaign. Forgive my cynicism, but I think it is distinctly less rotten because unlike Finlay Macdonald, I don’t expect or desire politicians to act cynically. I don’t think it is ever desirable to put the world-weary in command of even a slice of the world.
The truth might actually be that Metiria Turei didn’t know what speaking up about her experience on the DPB in the 1990s would do, but that she genuinely believed it worth taking the risk and standing up for the powerless. Doing so is worth losing support today, even her own position, and maybe even the election. Is it worth changing the government if the price is shutting down such an important debate about dignity in the welfare system? I don’t think it is, frankly.
However, I’m glad to say that the debate isn’t going away. This particular elephant has been in the room a long time and Metiria Turei has turned us to face it. That she paid a heavy political, and personal price should not be thrown back in her face. The tragedy is that New Zealand politics is a little more cynical.