Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: Witch hunt turns to relief for Williams

Andrew Williams came back fighting when he was exposed for urinating in public. Photo / Doug Sherring
Andrew Williams came back fighting when he was exposed for urinating in public. Photo / Doug Sherring

It was fascinating and not a little instructive to watch things turn this last week for the North Shore City mayor, Andrew Williams.

When I saw the news last Sunday morning, I thought, well, that's the end of that career. It seemed like a slam dunk.

Political leaders can't be sitting all evening in bars guzzling wine, then walking down the road, widdling under trees and then driving home over the limit. Next thing Rodney Hide steps in demanding Williams resign immediately.

But Williams, instead of crawling away under a rock, fought back. He said he drank the wine with friends. It was after council business.

He was relaxing. He drank wine but it was with friends and it was over a long time - some 3 hours. He did not drive over the limit.

And if he relieved himself under a tree, well, the only comment he appears to have made is that he was sorry women can't as easily avail themselves as men, which was an unusual way of putting it - but I have heard many women over the years espouse a similar view.

In the Sunday Star-Times story, the reporter keeps an eye on the North Shore Mayor for several hours. He is spying on him, in other words.

Why, I wonder? How did he know he was there? Given the toxicity of North Shore politics these days, and Williams' stand on the Supercity and the opprobrium his political enemies feel for him and the weirdness of his late-night angry texts, it is reasonable to believe the reporter was tipped off.

He creeps down the street as the mayor leaves the bar and sees the mayor relieve himself under a tree. Then he sees the mayor get in his car and drive off. He is not noted as having driven erratically and no one tested his breath.

We do not know what state Williams was in. There is no suggestion in the story he was lurching about the streets. And he relieved himself behind a tree, discreetly.

The Christchurch Press political editor on his blog this week expressed a legitimate view of the story, I think.

He said, "But of [all] the stitch-ups, of all the nasty, low-down, personal vendettas, of all the naked, back-stabbing, below-the-belt shin-kicking attacks, the orchestrated beat-up on Williams has me almost feeling sorry for him."

And that, interestingly, was the way the public seemed to see it. Williams' political enemies got stuck in, but the public seemed to rally to his defence.

What the public do not like is people sneaking round after people when they are relaxing at the conclusion of their business. They think it is underhand and weird.

Which of us has not been caught short and had a slash out of sight under a tree? If Williams had been driving along a South Island road, for instance, and had stopped his car to get out and relieve himself, would that be a story?

Nevertheless, the mayor is a publicly elected official and he is a legitimate subject of inquiry, especially given his odd behaviour.

Well, it seems odd. It might not be. It just seems odd, the texting business. We are all odd, after all, in some way or other. But the mayor should be more careful.

And posting that picture of Rodney Hide with a Hitler moustache in the middle of a swastika was very careless.

The foreshore and seabed is back upon us. The Government will abolish the Foreshore and Seabed Act, put the foreshore and seabed into the "public domain" and allow Maori to petition the courts for "customary title".

Heaven knows what powers this will bestow, how those powers will be used and at what cost. Already Mr Key is being told that it's not enough. You can see this drifting on again for years, can't you?

But it is Easter and I hope you are having an enjoyable autumn break. Autumn is perhaps the loveliest season. The only bad thing about it is that it leads inexorably into winter, but autumn cannot choose the company it keeps.

The nights are cool and we have been lighting fires in the evening already. The locals consider us city wimps, but why be cold if you do not have to, I say.

The valley in the early mornings in the past few days has been shrouded in mist, grey cotton slung among us, all over us, hiding the hills and the trees.

That soon burns off and Pa Hill, a few hundred metres away, comes out of the gloom into the sunshine. We've had days of lovely, gentle light, airy, slightly pale, days that seem to hang forever in the warm sun.

The Virginia creeper over the walls of the house is mostly aflame and our beautiful scarlet ash tree is turning also. Leaves are already sweeping across the lawns in the chilly gusts of wind.

I do not like winter. It always amazes me that people can live forever in places that endure months of freezing snow and ice. Mind you, it is all about what you're used to, I guess.

Europeans simply grow up with their winters. It is the way it is. One of the things I found most interesting about the Millennium Trilogy, set, of course, in Sweden is how little there is of any real description of the winter.

So much of the action in the books takes place in winter, yet no character ever seems to mention the cold. No one ever remarks, "How cold it is today," or makes any similar observation. Winter is simply such a large part of their lives as to be not worth mentioning. They can have it.

Happy Easter.

- Herald on Sunday

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