John Tamihere is back, calling MP fat

By Kathryn Powley

Over a beer in a West Auckland restaurant, one of Labour's most loved and loathed former MPs revels in his return to the party.

John Tamihere has earned his stripes on the street. Photo / Doug Sherring
John Tamihere has earned his stripes on the street. Photo / Doug Sherring

John Tamihere is back. And it seems nothing has changed. This time he's calling one of National's women MPs "fat".

The former MP who in 2005 suffered a calamitous fall from grace has been allowed to become a member of the Labour Party once more.

But he's vowing not to tone down his opinions or toe the party line. As if to prove his point, in an interview over a beer in a Henderson restaurant yesterday, Tamihere says he intends to be as outspoken as ever.

"People have got to get over themselves. There are some really fragile, brittle people in the Labour Party. When you give them a bit of a rev-up they get broken and bitter and twisted and hold it 'til the day they die."

He should know. He landed in hot water in 2005 after he made inflammatory comments about Jews and women, or "front bums", and criticised gay MPs.

So is he homophobic?

"That's your view. I'm welcome to my views too."

He says he is simply expressing his opinions. "I've never gone out on any hate speech issue at all. Am I opposed to gay marriage? Yes I am. But why should I shut up about that? Who says? Who says you or any faction in the party should be able to step over me and say 'shut up, you're not allowed to open your mouth on that'."

So, in the immortal words of fellow Westie MP Paula Bennett, we ask whether his return to politics will force him to "zip it sweetie".

Tamihere laughs a big belly laugh. "Not for that bloody fat girl up here, I'm going to tell you that right now."

Back when Tamihere, 53, uttered the words "front bum" to journalist Ian Wishart, he claimed he didn't realise there was a recorder on the table. Now, there is no such confusion. We are on the record, and he is calling Paula Bennett fat.

So, just to be clear, he won't be pushed into toeing the party line?

"I've actually earned my stripes on the street and I've got every right to express as an advocate on behalf of those communities, their issues."

So why does he want back into this dog-eat-dog political world?

Besides Labour being in his DNA, as he puts it, he wants to influence policy, to end the "crony capitalism" practised at the detriment of "hard-working low-income Kiwis" struggling week in week out to make ends meet. Telecommunications, electricity, construction, even beer and casinos are examples.

He believes New Zealand's population is too small to have a market-led economy. Australian banks are "rorting us" and housing needs recalibrating.

"You need to have a capital gains tax, but you also need the state to re-enter low cost housing."

He admits there was a time when the last thing he wanted was to return to Labour, but he's since realised he wants to be part of a "robust conversation" about economic change.

So can he get on with his fellow Labourites?

"Look, I don't have to get on with these people. I'm joining the Labour Party. I'm not joining the 'Women's Party', I'm not joining the 'Union Party', I'm not joining the 'Gay Party', I'm joining the Labour Party.

"They're going to have to get on with some people like us, people like me who reflect quite a large demographic on that side of the voter turnout."

- Herald on Sunday

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