Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: The damage and embarrassment of Aaron Gilmore

Aaron Gilmore  with Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Supplied
Aaron Gilmore with Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Supplied

The National Party is changing. The modern party is inclusive, diverse, down-to-earth, and egalitarian. At least that's the narrative John Key and Bill English have been pushing for most of the last decade and there's plenty of evidence that the claims are more than just rhetoric.

This can be seen in the caucus demographics, which are far from being the preserve of rich, white, middle-aged men. But then along came Aaron Gilmore. He's just seriously set back the modernising cause of National Party leaders, and revealed an underbelly of old conservative privilege that is very unfashionable. This is why Gilmore is about to be pushed under a bus (metaphorically) by his National colleagues.

As Colin Espiner says, 'The trouble for National is that Gilmore has played up to exactly the sort of born-to-rule Tory, I'm-more-important-than-you stereotype that John Key has worked so hard to dismantle' - see Espiner's excellent column, explaining how Gilmore broke the two golden rules for MPs: 'Happy' Gilmore's political career likely to be brief.

The country seems to be laughing at Gilmore, whose actions beg to be lampooned - see Steve Braunias' The Secret Diary of Aaron Gilmore, and Scott Yorke's A day in the life of Aaron Gilmore, MP and An apology. Others are mining the rich seam of Gilmore's past statements and actions - Rebecca Wright's 4-minute Campbell Live feature, Inside the mind of Aaron Gilmore is well-worth watching. Joelle Dally has more in her profile: Gilmore has colourful history, and Brook Sabin has focused on Gilmore's attitude to alcohol by dredging up two interesting quotes from Gilmore in Parliament: 1) 'When 20 drunken middle-aged women were chasing me, looking for action, I can tell members that that was the most frightening moment of my life', 2) 'I have seen many, many middle-aged people out of control from drinking' - see: Gilmore's future rests on formal complaint.

Since the initial Hanmer Spring incident became public further stories have emerged. Andrea Vance has written about 'allegations of sleazy conduct towards a woman at his infamous boozy dinner', and has quoted a 'senior party source' saying that 'Something did go on that wasn't appropriate' and 'This is a very serious matter' - see: PM facing calls to deal to MP. Kathryn Powley has uncovered a another recent situation in which Gilmore has been said to be using the don't-you-know-who-I-am line - see: Tenants accuse Gilmore of unfair tactics in house fight.

What will happen to Gilmore now? Audrey Young says 'Aaron Gilmore has no future with the National Party. The only question is when the end will come - now or at next year's list selection process'. She also explains why the PM is taking Gilmore at his word over the Hamner incident - see: Versions of boozy incident are so different that the party's over for MP. Andrew Geddis details what Gilmore has done wrong in his post, Not so happy Gilmore. But, the best account of what has gone on, and what is likely to happen can be found in Matthew Hooton's Why Aaron Gilmore should resign, but won't. Hooton argues that Gilmore would be best to go now, and he outlines the politician's failings and unpopularity within the party.

With Gilmore's less than appealing personality being revealed, many are asking how the National Party put someone like him on its party list. Part of the explanation can be found in a very good Herald editorial, Governments can unravel from bottom. The key part is this: 'The fact he is in Parliament suggests National's list exceeds its depth of presentable candidates. While that reflects badly on the party it might also be a sign that this country is too small for the size of its Parliament. The National and Labour Parties are our main vehicles for people with political ambitions. While neither has its mass membership levels of old, both ought not be short of people of the right calibre for public life'. That's the reality - all New Zealand political parties are merely shells of their former selves, with very unhealthy levels of membership and participation. As the editorial points out, political parties are all too often used by political careerists as stepping stones for personal advancement and enrichment. The explosive growth of executive salaries in both the public and private sector over the last decade means that many experienced and talented individuals who, in the past, became MPs now baulk at the massive pay drop going to Parliament means.

Danyl McLauchlan explains more of the puzzle of Aaron Gilmore in his excellent blogpost, The Marks. Quite simply, the modern parties are merely shells of their former selves, in which low-quality career politicians are given list positions as a payback to campaign for the party vote in unwinnable seats: 'Gilmore ran in a Labour Party safe seat. Now, the National Party knows that if they run candidates in their opposition's safe seats then it boosts their party vote, and the party vote is really the only vote that counts. But campaigning for a seat is an expensive and time-consuming exercise, so no intelligent, aspiring politician is going to take six months off work, hit up all their friends and relatives for fund-raising, or pay for all their billboards themselves if they have no chance of actually winning that seat or making it in on the list. Enter Aaron Gilmore, and hundreds of aspiring candidates just like him who are essentially just mugs that their parties are scamming for cash'.

David Farrar has also commented on Gilmore's list position, suggesting it was too high, and that the problem is National's policy of protecting its incumbent MPs by ranking them higher than solid newcomers - see: List ranking.

Of course, it's not just National that is being damaged and embarrassed by the Gilmore minor scandal - it's the institution of Parliament as well as electoral politics in general. Blogger Pete George points out that 'Many people outside politics view all MPs in the same light - dimly. Gilmore reinforces a wider impression that all MPs are arrogant and full of self importance' and that 'He is a symptom of the lack of depth of quality of MPs in Parliament' - see: The Gilmore damage. The overall effect will be to reduce the standing of politics, and to discourage people from getting involved. The Manawatu Standard editorial backs this view, saying 'In one unfortunate incident, National MP Aaron Gilmore has managed to embody virtually all the perceived negative qualities of politicians the public loathes. Arrogant, narcissistic, with a lust for power and influence' - see: Gilmore epitome of boorishness.

But is Gilmore really to blame for his misfortune? Michael Laws attempts a defence of him in Double standards on Aaron Gilmore. And Eric Crampton points to another interesting defence by an anti-alcohol campaigner - see: Who's to blame?.

Other recent important or interesting items include the following:

Who runs Christchurch? This is the focus on an impressive series about those individuals with the most power during the crucial rebuild - see The complete Press Power List 2013. It includes a list and explanation of the top 50 people, as well as an explanatory video. Top of the list: John Key, Gerry Brownlee, and Ngai Tahu's Mark Solomon. Also see Ric Stevens' Chch's movers and shakers and Who is on our Emerging Power List?.

With Parekura Horomia now buried, debate will escalate about the coming by-election in Ikaroa Rawhiti. Claire Trevett discusses what will happen now in his electorate, and the nature of the Labour-Maori relationship - see: Death robs Labour of vital link to Maori. See also, Tracy Watkins' Horomia leaves another legacy.

The business reaction to the Labour-Green NZ Power proposal has been strong. When will reaction come to Labour's policy of reducing the value of houses? See Bernard Hickey's Calm before policy storm.

The share offer for Mighty River Power has closed, and John Roughan argues that Labour and the Greens have helped investors make a tidy profit off the taxpayer by lowering the opening share price - see: Discount the politics and buy.

The Auckland mayoralty race is heating up. For a good discussion of Maurice Williamson's chances should he stand, see Niko Kloeten's 'Mayor Mo' could bury Len Brown. Brian Rudman also celebrates his possible entry, saying Mayor Maurice? It'll be a fun race. Toby Manhire says the campaign will be about transport with echoes of London's 'Ken-Boris scuffles' - see: Cars versus trains... bring it on. The latest entrant to the contest is American-born John Palino - see Bernard Orsman's Centre-right restaurateur to contest Auckland mayoralty.

It's only about a week until the Government's Budget is announced. Corin Dann outlines what he expects - see: Expect a brighter Budget.

Friday was World Press Freedom Day, and the Press Freedom Index showed that New Zealand was ranked 13 out of 197 countries - see Beith Atkinson's Press Freedom in New Zealand unchanged. The Dominion Post also celebrated by the day by pointing out the importance of the media's self-regulation and arguing that the country's lack of political corruption is linked to the strength of the media - see: Free press is free of political interference.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust's Judging the Judges website has launched today - see Anna Leask's Victims' website keeps eye on judges' rulings. David Farrar says he has 'mixed feelings' about the site - see: Judging the Judges.

State secrets - who guards our privacy?. This is an in-depth feature by Ben Heather looking at the spate of recent privacy violations by government agencies, and what might be done about it.

The tax-free status of companies and pressure groups is increasingly under scrutiny - see Olivia Carville's Hospital's tax-exempt status criticized, and Heather McCracken's Family First NZ faces deregistration.

It's not known if MP Aaron Gilmore took part, but a recent survey of MPs shows that 'MPs are more extroverted than the general population' - see Mark Blackham's NZ Politicians more extrovert.

Finally, have you heard of The John Key Party, The Pizza Party or the Fair Wage Party? The Civilian satirist Ben Uffindell strikes again, poking fun at National's declining coalition options in John Key resorts to making up coalition partners ahead of 2014 election.

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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