- Date published:
6:29 am, August 5th, 2017 - 210 comments
Categories: benefits, class war, election 2017, greens, labour, Metiria Turei, welfare - Tags: #IamMetiria, #IstandwithMetiria, Matthew Whitehead
Metiria Turei announced today that she does not intend to resign as Green Party Co-Leader, but that she would deliberately rule herself out for ministerial positions due to media scrutiny. It’s good to hear the first part, and sad to hear the second part, although it seems a sensible measure given how much the media are focusing on playing the person not the ball on this particular issue. It would make no sense for Turei to go, (in fact, the Party is pretty enthused with the fact that she was willing to put herself out there like this, and would probably back her even if it had cost the Greens politically to do so) and it would undermine Ardern’s position by painting the entire left bloc as unstable. It’s got to be a very hard time for Turei right now, as journalists have clearly been paying stark attention to her past in a way that they haven’t to say, John Key and Bill English when they both did the same thing in being registered to vote in electorates they didn’t or claimed not to live in, or Todd Barclay, who actually did something straightforwardly unethical and tried to cover it up, rather than merely doing something illegal and admitting to it.
Ardern is setting herself up as being brutally honest and transparent by admitting she would have insisted on not giving a Ministerial Warrant for Turei even if she didn’t volunteer not to ask for one. I’m not sure that admitting that fact would have been my first instinct, (I think there’s a balance to be had between distancing yourself from something that technically is a fraud1, but also not actively letting the media hype this story up more by failing to support your coalition partner) but then again, I’m not in Labour and have different political instincts. I can certainly accept that Labour was never going to rally behind Metiria even with just the first admission let alone the latter one, but it would have been nice to see a bit more of a supportive tone, at least.
What this really seems to be about is that there’s one standard for women who were fighting their way out of poverty and another for rich people who know they won’t really get called to account for their own personal histories so long as everyone involved keeps quiet. While I normally think of voting-related crimes as very serious, I also am on the record as thinking electorates are anachronisms and need to go, so I don’t particularly care if someone registers in the wrong electorate, at least so long as we’re not all dogpiling into Ōhāriu, Epsom, and Te Tai Tokerau. I super-duper double-dragon don’t care when it’s to vote for a candidate that’s obviously not going to win, like every single McGillicudy Serious candidate in 1993, including Turei herself.
We will see if these extra revelations actually hurt. I think it’s unlikely to make a difference with voters, especially as Metiria has been more than willing to front up on this, (she had literally gotten away with it on both counts before her admission) and neither are things that will strike most Green voters as particularly wrong, especially given Metiria’s willingness to take personal responsibility on this matter, not only in promising to repay the money and co-operating with the investigation, but also in ruling out the possibility of personally working to reform the welfare system as Minister. While some will say a person of integrity would never have concealed the truth in the first place, I actually think it takes more integrity and honesty to do the right thing after you’ve done something that’s questionable in the first place.
I also think that some of the people worked up about these issues don’t understand that actually Metiria was on the losing side of an ongoing class war in New Zealand, and that there was no way for her to live her life successfully. She could either have suffered, or have cheated, and neither choice was really right in a moral sense. It was better that she got paid a livable amount and transitioned to a stable career than that she end up not getting what she and her child needed to survive out of the welfare system. They like that there are other complications going on with Metiria’s life at the time, because it allows them to distract themselves from the reality that benefits in New Zealand aren’t really livable.
It’s easy to be honest and transparent if there’s nothing to call you on. We’ll see if New Zealand agrees soon, (I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to be polarising, or if there’s a mild price to pay to the revelation that she committed electoral fraud as well when she was a young woman) but we’re going to have to get used to the fact that in a high-information environment, a lot of little things that people of Gen X and younger generations did as youngsters are going to be out there, and we’re just going to have to relax and accept that you don’t have to be perfect to be a leader. In fact, it’s much better for leaders to be aware of just how frail the human condition can be.
1While also in no way morally wrong in the situation. The only way to argue that Metiria did something wrong is that there will be some people in the same situation who obeyed the law and starved/got kicked out of their home/etc, an injustice to which I am sympathetic, and I believe they too should have been paid enough to actually live on, like Treasury advised Ruth Richardson to, back in the day.