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August 9, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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What to do about Chris Carter

There is something about Phil Goff which makes him entirely unlikeable. It could be his weak attempts to appear down-to-earth in interviews, where his smarmy character exudes insincerity. Or it might be the holier-than-thou struts up and down the halls of parliament as presented on the evening news, which resonate a distinct distance from voters. It is this lack of appeal, I believe, which is the key behind the Labour leader’s poor performance in the polls, and the only reason why shamed MP Chris Carter’s failed coup attempt might have actually enjoyed some support, had the plot not been foiled.

The truth is, leadership in New Zealand is almost of a presidential nature these days, with parties being elected by how much the public like and can relate to the different leaders. Look at our current Prime Minister. The ‘Tuhoe Cannibalism Joke’ is just one example of many which frame him in a Bush-esque light of the little kid playing politics. Granted, he is not quite at the level of bumbling idiocy in which Bush operated, but in the face of these eyebrow-raising blunders, and perhaps even because of them, New Zealand voters seem to identify with and like John Key. One might predict that as a result it is simply character that will see Key lead the National Party to another victory in 2011. The concentration on leadership as presented by the media on a consistent basis plays an important role in this, but it is important for New Zealanders to remember that they vote for a candidate, and a party in elections, and not a leader specifically.

This week’s column isn’t simply going to be a rant on what I do and don’t like about our country’s leaders, but since leadership is the central issue behind the fiasco surrounding Carter, it is important to note the importance of a leader’s character, despite the fact we don’t directly vote for that person. The thing is, despite a continued embarrassing performance in the polls, it has been pointed out time and time again that Phil Goff is not only the best, but probably the only man for the job in the Labour Party at present. As Scoop columnist Gordon Campbell wrote recently, “Inside caucus, (Labour Finance Spokesperson) David Cunliffe would be the only remotely viable contender, and that alarming prospect only underlines the fact that Goff is still the only option.” Beyond Cunliffe, the tossing around of names like Labour Chief Whip Darren Hughes as a further possible candidate, serves only to firmly reiterate in my mind that Goff is the man for the job. Perhaps, pre-credit card scandal, the vivacious Shane Jones might have had a chance, and I certainly still have high hopes he might find his way to that position at some point in his career.

The Labour Party as a whole doesn’t look in much better shape than its leadership. A 3 News Opinion Poll from mid June this year asked the question “If a general election was held yesterday under MMP, which political party would you have voted for with your Party Vote? That is, for the political party you most want to be represented in parliament.” The results are telling, with the Labour Party losing five seats to the National Party in the hypothetical situation.

On TV One’s Q+A programme, Paul Holmes touched on the reasons behind this poor performance in his interview with Phil Goff. Basically, it comes down to the fact that the Labour Party is relatively unknown. As Goff said in the interview, “A third of my caucus were elected in 2008 and in last year’s Mt Albert by-election, (and) Te Atatu (the expelled Carter’s electorate) gives us a chance for rejuvenation there.” Even though Goff assures that come the 2011 election this new talent will have “developed” and “strengthened”, unfamiliarity is likely to be Labour’s toughest obstacle in said election.

So where does that leave Carter? People will be familiar with the credit card scandal which saw the MP demoted. People will also be familiar with the subsequent botched leadership coup, after which, either in some form of deluded stupidity or complete arrogance, the disgraced politician has vowed to continue to serve his Te Atatu electorate. Furthermore, at the time of writing, Carter was seeking two months of “stress leave”, which is highly likely to be granted, especially after Goff admitted he believed Carter was “unwell”.

MPs are granted a leave entitlement of 14 sitting days per year, and so long as the member can convince the Speaker of the necessity, no medical certificate is required. This of course brings up all sorts of questions surrounding the hypocrisy of National’s proposal to allow employers to request a medical certificate for a single sick day for the rest of the population, but that is for another column. Because parliament only sits for three days per week, and in some weeks not at all, it is unlikely the Labour Party will be able to officially expel Carter from the party until mid September, despite the inevitability of his expulsion from the party. Thus, the New Zealand Council of the Labour Party’s meeting scheduled for 7 August, will not be able to institute any of the disciplinary action they discuss in the meeting immediately, likely dragging the party further down in the polls while the Carter scandal continues to dominate headlines.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Derek Jacobson says:

    I love the amateur analyisis. Almost as bad as the mainstream media, keep it up son.

  2. Rock N Roll says:

    Nice work! Look forward to the next article.

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