Editorial: MP's silly gripe throwback to tribal politics

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Darien Fenton. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Darien Fenton. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

The annual award for "rush of blood to the head by a politician" has been claimed. Remarkably, it was not the Prime Minister's joke about asking for a coalmine from his Australian counterpart should the Warriors defeat Manly in league's grand final tomorrow night. In light of the Pike River calamity, that would easily have challenged for most cringeworthy and callous clanger of the year.

Until up popped one Darien Fenton, Labour Party list MP, parliamentary timeserver and self-appointed champion of the working class.

Ms Fenton had been disturbed by the Mad Butcher, Sir Peter Leitch, saying on Radio New Zealand that he liked and backed National's John Key. The comment came as he lauded his Warriors side for reaching the final and talked of obtaining the Prime Minister a seat at the Sydney stadium for the match.

This was all too much for Ms Fenton. Following the misadventure of her colleague Clare Curran, who used Labour's "Red Alert" blog site to attack the ungrateful masses of the left who might vote Green, Ms Fenton wrote on Facebook that Sir Peter was a sycophant who had "sucked up to" Mr Key.

She would "never go near him again" and "choose[s] not to buy stuff from those who support Tories".

This petulance spoke volumes. The Mad Butcher has been a working man selling his meat in working-class areas for more than a generation. Despite his own wealth, he has stronger blue-collar credentials than Ms Fenton and her Opposition backbenchers combined.

He has for years been a prominent "mate" of the former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark and, among many acts of charity over a lifetime, provided and cooked meat for the barbecue held after former leader David Lange's funeral.

For Ms Fenton, though, his broadcast utterances were political treason. That any member of the country's working class could speak well of a "Tory" leader is anathema. Unthinkable. Unforgivable.

The Mad Butcher was shocked by her withering personal rejection and the attempt to denounce him for saying what he thinks. His former butchery business was also stunned by an inference some had taken that a Labour MP was calling for a boycott of the Mad Butcher stores, many of them in rock-solid Labour seats.

The Fenton comments would have been politically dumb and personally reprehensible at any time, given Sir Peter's record for serving the communities the MP purports to represent.

But her timing, amid Sir Peter's well-publicised but tentative recovery from cancer and the joy of all league fans at the Warriors' late season success, was particularly damaging. The general election is in less than two months. Her party is at historic lows, Mr Key's National Party at historic highs in the opinion polls.

Ms Fenton apologised late in the week. She had to, as her display of "he's either with us or against us" is an unlovely insight into the tribal, old-school politics of some on the left. More than that, it threw a spotlight back on Sir Peter's personal comments in favour of Mr Key.

The mysteries of the Prime Minister's appeal run deep, leading to bewilderment within Labour at his "smile and wave" success, now publicly winning over a stalwart of the South Auckland and rugby league communities.

They must fear that in the words of the Mad Butcher's radio advertisements, Mr Key could soon be seen as "everybody's mate".

- NZ Herald

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