Crashing into consequence

In Newsletter Editorial4 MinutesBy Gavin MyersJuly 28, 2023

Poor Chippy. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes right now. You have to take your hat off to him, though; with just under three months to go before the polls open, he’s keeping a brave face and trying to not lose sight of the prize.

But it can’t be easy. Observing the political news and commentary about the Labour Party as the weeks pass is like watching an out-of-control car crash. You know it’s not going to end well.

Speaking of car crashes…

Kiri Allan’s little drink-driving excursion last weekend, which resulted in her crashing her ministerial vehicle into a parked car, may have put at least a temporary end to her political career. As we know, she was arrested and charged with careless use of a motor vehicle and failing to accompany an enforcement officer when required to do so, as well as being issued an infringement notice for excess breath alcohol between 250 and 400mcg. This carries a penalty of 50 demerit points but no criminal conviction. It was announced yesterday that she’ll appear in court on 4 September. That’s undoubtedly poor timing for Labour; it will remind the voting public of the party’s woes as the general election appears on the horizon (assuming the rest of Hipkins’ cohort is on their best behaviour from now on).

In the wake of the debacle, a spotlight has been shone on the stress Allan has been under and her resultant struggles with mental health. I’ll steer clear of commenting on that beyond the fact that politics is cooked up in a very hot kitchen, and you know what they say about being able to handle the heat…

As we know, too, Allan was quick to resign. That’s only prudent for a justice minister charged with a criminal offence. While Michael Woods, for example, did a good job of quietly ignoring the political impropriety around his financial interests and shareholdings until the chickens came home to roost and Hipkins was forced to protect the party’s election prospects, Allan’s resignation – while no excuse for her actions – leaves a better taste in the mouth.

Put it this way, I’m used to a political climate where there truly are no consequences – certainly not to the extent a minister would sacrifice their free lunch and step down. Perish the thought! No, in 21st-century South Africa, there may be a bit of posturing, usually a ‘commission of enquiry’, perhaps a ‘slap’ on the wrist, and then a redeployment to some other posting – at worst, indefinite (paid) suspension while the commission’s ‘investigation’ is left to fade from memory quietly.

True, even having lived here for four years now, mine is a political context where the standards are so low that I’m a little impressed when a politician screws up and admits it. In New Zealand, standards are indeed much higher; the public rightly expects much more from its politicians. And that’s a good thing. Heck, the Economist Intelligence Unit even has New Zealand ranked as the world’s second most democratic country. (Norway is top.)

While there’s surely an element of ‘election year’ at play, the political controversies making the headlines this year appear to be treated with the seriousness they deserve. The consequences for such transgressions – however they may come – shows the country has a working, healthy political system.

There’s a thought that may ease Chippy’s woes.

Take care out there,

Gavin Myers