When neither the truth nor a lie will suffice

In politics, it is important you control the message.  Telling the truth, or lying, is almost always less desirable, as two MPs found out this week.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei was telling the truth as she saw it, that in order to improve affordability of housing, house prices needed to fall by up to 50 per cent. She didn’t say they needed to fall fast. In fact she said they needed to fall gradually to prevent a crash.

But she didn’t think it through and Labour was smeared with it, less than two months into the memorandum of understanding between the two parties.

Disregarding the political carelessness of her comments, they also breached the agreement because Labour was not warned in advance that Turei was going to posit such a controversial policy. Andrew Little and John Key seized on them.

Little needed to distance himself quickly from the Green policy. The only thing scarier than the prospect of falling house values for a home-owner is a politician with a plan for falling house values – and Labour cannot be associated with that plan.

Home ownership rates have been declining, but at 63 per cent, it is still a significant group whose sense of present and future security is tied up in property.

The problem here is that the Greens don’t understand where half of their support comes from.  It is because they can’t stand to think about it.  Liberal guilt, mostly female, mostly in relationships with successful men.  But they are home owners, and they are not going to put up with the Greens taking their security blankie away. 

Todd McClay’s failure to tell the truth reflects badly on him as Trade Negotiations Minister rather than his party. He has held that job for only six months but he has been a minister for three years.

He mishandled a media story that floated the notion of a trade war by the Chinese Government with New Zealand in retaliation against a possible inquiry into Chinese steel imports. It turns out that he and his officials had had enough information since the end of May to cast doubt on it. But he gave the story legs by denials about the Government then two different admissions as to what he knew and when.

McClay gave answers to questions that may have been technically correct in terms of a Chinese Government trade war but were misleading in terms of what he actually knew about comments made by a Chinese importer.

The Opposition tried to paint the political failings of the minister into a story about the failure of the Government to take threats of a trade war seriously. But the facts did not support the claim. Key himself had been kept in the dark by McClay.

Being publicly castigated by the Prime Minister and forced to apologise will be a lasting blight on his career. If in doubt, tell the truth, the whole truth.

Key didn’t want any of the stink on him.  And whatever you may think of John Key in general, he tends to be a team player that takes some of the bullets for his MPs.  But not in this case.  McClay is unlikely to be awarded a trusted portfolio in the next reshuffle.

Both of these examples scream loudly that politicians should have an awareness beyond their own immediate needs and to ensure the message is coherent.

Both politicians can count their lucky stars this happened during parliamentary recess, although I suspect they will still face a slap-down if the occasion presents itself.

In the end, it comes down to individuals just winging it.  An oversupply of arrogance brought on by feeling secure in the job will do that.   Paula Bennett had a similar education recently.


– Audrey Young, NZ Herald

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