Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Politicians' hubris a self-imposed roadblock

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Len Brown's cutting up of a credit card on TV was a cheap stunt. Photo / Richard Robinson
Len Brown's cutting up of a credit card on TV was a cheap stunt. Photo / Richard Robinson

All seemed lost for Shane Jones last week. But in steps Chris Carter and saves him. Simply saying sorry is too hard for Carter and the absurdity of him fleeing camera operators down stairwells and corridors to avoid saying it was bizarre. Luckily for Jones it took the media spotlight off him.

Jones will never regain his place as pretender to the Labour leadership crown but given his genuine remorse enough people will give him the chance to rebuild his career.

New Zealanders are like that. We can forgive people as long as they say sorry.

The experience was a humiliation and if he learns the appropriate lessons it may make him a better person and politician. We all like "back from the dead" stories.

But Carter's meltdown this week surely finishes him. It's not the card misuse that will kill him, it's his clear inability to admit he's done anything wrong.

His tiresome claim that he was being targeted because he was gay was absurd when of the four Labour MPs Phil Goff promoted, three were gay.

They were promoted on merit - their sexuality had nothing to do with it.

Carter's actions this week was politically unforgivable. Goff had his perfect story.

The errant credit card behaviour was under Helen Clark's watch, not his. It was a golden opportunity for Goff to act tough; discipline the three transgressors and stamp his authority on his caucus.

New Zealanders like their political leaders to be tough and while Labour was likely to take a short-term hit it would cement in Goff's leadership.

All it required was for Carter, Jones and Mita Ririnui to thank the leader for their demotions and apologise to the public for their behaviour.

Jones and Ririnui loyally stuck the script. But Carter's actions completely destroyed Goff's strategy. Understandably Goff hit the roof and banished Carter to home detention to reflect on his indulgence. But the damage was done.

Instead of Goff looking like a leader in charge and his party being able to move on from the scandal we have a party still being rocked by their own indiscipline.

National just shut up and enjoyed its opponent's humiliation. The fact that several of its MPs were guilty of credit card misuse was crowded out by Carter's behaviour.

It is amazing that almost two-thirds of the way through this Government's term all the attention is on the Opposition's mishaps.

Labour in recent months has been slowly closing the polling gap with National. After this week I wouldn't be surprised that it takes a huge hit in the polls.

This brings me to the parallel universe of local government politics in which Labour Party-backed mayoral hopeful Len Brown has credit card problems of his own.

His use was careless at best and, as many Aucklanders don't know much about him, his misuse will worry them. But it was his response, like Carter's, which is more revealing.

The cutting up of his credit card on television was a cheap stunt. Was he saying he can't be trusted with a credit card to do his job?

His explanation on why he used his card to buy personal items was because his wife had their joint card raises more concerns. Everyone knows couples can get a card each on joint accounts.

It's good he apologised but his emotional presentation to his council was disturbing. His opponents can't believe their luck and are predictably using it as evidence Brown is unstable and loose with ratepayers' money.

I said a few weeks ago in this column that the Supercity mayoralty was Brown's to lose. The credit card misuse and his theatrical apology won't derail Brown's campaign.

But it will raise questions by some about his suitability for the top job. Brown has had a dream run and was sleepwalking to victory. This changed this week.

The new Auckland mayoral race is now wide open - as is Chris Carter's seat. As they say, a week is a long time in politics.

- Herald on Sunday

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