Deborah Coddington: Making a difference, one issue at a time

I've criticised certain members of parliament for their invisibility and I've received correspondence from readers pointing out said MP is not as useless as I've alleged; he or she is very effective locally despite having no national profile.

An example is Sandra Goudie, National MP for Coromandel. She won the seat in 2002 and, quite frankly, I thought she was delightfully mad. In the debating chamber she frequently interrupted with points of order which nobody understood. But when I criticised Goudie, I was bombarded by constituents pointing out her excellent local work. And the good people of Coromandel proved it by returning Goudie in 2005 with a majority of 10,500-plus.

(At this point, you might well ask, who is Deborah Coddington to judge? Search me. Ask my editor who takes me to lunch and reminds me how well I'm paid every time I say I'm giving up this column because I'm not fit to judge.)

Often, MPs themselves persuade me of their worth. What's-his-name from Hawke's Bay, the National MP whose uncle I think was an All Black, sent me a kiddie's lunchbox and asked me to lunch. Usually, he said, he just grabs a Caesar salad from Wishbone on Lambton Quay enroute to Parliament Buildings, but for me he would make an exception.

I said, you're not my editor, let's meet for a drink at The Backbencher instead, and proceeded to spend the day studying his photograph so I'd be able to distinguish said fellow (whose name still escapes me) from the effigies of Winston, Nandor, Helen and the others immortalised in this famous bar. (Fitz - you still owe me for the free publicity.)

Which brings me to Mark Blumsky, a National MP who last week threatened to quit, frustrated over his inability to "make a difference". Despite the good fortune of having his 2005 campaign managed by the famous blogger David Farrar, Blumsky failed in his aim of taking Wellington Central from Marion Hobbs.

But by all accounts (and I didn't live in the Wellington area at the time) Blumsky was a good mayor for the capital. For purely selfish reasons I would like Blumsky to quit right now and run for mayor of Lower Hutt - anything to get rid of David Ogden, a ninny whose idea of a joke is to encourage his own wedding guests to kick journalists in the shins. Oh very funny, when you rely on those same people to get yourself known to voters come mayoral elections.

Blumsky's stand for Wellington Central is one reason why former Act MP Stephen Franks didn't run for the seat - "It would split the vote," he told me at the time. Franks was - still is - highly regarded not just in Wellington Central but also in Parliament itself. People who'd sooner attend a Warehouse Boxing Day sale than give Act their party vote, tell me they want Franks back there debating (memo to National: get him).

As for Blumsky's assertion, "I can assure you now you make no difference as a backbench MP," it's just plain wrong. You might not make differences on a grand scale, but is celebrity status now the raison d'etre for parliamentarians? Are Rodney Hide's and Georgina Beyer's high standards of self-obsession the benchmark for success?

I hope not, because backbenchers - list and constituency - can quietly make huge differences. As a list MP my constituents weren't defined by electorate boundaries, but by issues. Thus I received cries for help from parents worried about children they suspected were in danger of sexual abuse. An example was a school trustee suspicious about a man hanging around young Maori children. She took his car registration and rang to ask if I knew his name - Peter Douglas Liddell. Did I know what to do? Tell the police immediately, I said, and don't rest until action is taken. They eventually caught him and locked him up again.

Another woman asked for advice when her ex-husband, in jail for sexually abusing children, was invited by CYFs to attend a Family Group Conference when her teenage son was caught abusing young girls. I told Steve Maharey and he rectified the situation for her.

But these are small actions. MPs, from every political party, have done more, but without fanfare. Even Trevor Mallard, my own MP, gets votes from non-Labour supporters because they think he's accessible and effective (he refuses a ministerial house). Peter Dunne's another example.

MPs have enormous power and they can use that for good or for evil.

Blumsky will only have himself to blame if he departs national politics feeling like a loser.

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