Editorial: Governments can unravel from bottom

List MP's behaviour shows he's in the wrong place.

The public can only wonder how somebody like Aaron Gilmore can get into Parliament. Photo / Supplied
The public can only wonder how somebody like Aaron Gilmore can get into Parliament. Photo / Supplied

"Dickhead" is one of the words National MP Aaron Gilmore was said to have directed at a restaurant waiter in the incident that has justly embarrassed his party. It was by no means his greatest offence that night, but dickhead is a word he ought to avoid. It perfectly describes an MP who scrapes into Parliament at the end of a long party list and imagines he is a lord.

According to a nearby diner, Mr Gilmore walked in with three companions during a National Party regional conference at Hanmer Springs and proceeded to whistle and snap his fingers for service and later, when refused more alcohol, gave the abused waiter his business card, saying "don't you know who I am".

One of his companions said Mr Gilmore "threatened to have the Prime Minister intervene and end the waiter's employment", which the MP has denied to the Prime Minister's chief of staff, more is the pity. Had he admitted it, John Key could have taken some action to remove this dickhead from the public payroll.

The public can only wonder how somebody like that can get into Parliament. Nobody elected him. He came in on National's list in 2008 but could not make it back to Parliament on the list in 2011 even though that election increased National's proportional representation. The previous year this newspaper revealed he did not have a finance industry qualification claimed in his CV.

Now he is back filling a vacancy left by Speaker Lockwood Smith's departure. This unfortunately is typical of the list system. People near the bottom of the list come and go without the public noticing or knowing much about them.

It is often claimed that the same could be said of many electorate MPs who are largely unknown outside the electorate. But they are well known within it. Before their election they have faced public meetings, attended local gatherings, made a point of meeting and talking to as many voters as possible.

List MPs may do the same but they do not face the same test. It is hard to believe someone who behaved as Mr Gilmore apparently did would win even a safe National electorate. Word gets around.

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.

By definition, that means people who will not suffer a bad case of ego inflation as soon as they are given a seat and a parliamentary identity card. But it also means people who will persevere with Parliament and not use it as a stepping stone to a sinecure offering more secure employment. One or two recent departures appear to be in that category.

Governments can unravel from the bottom as well as the top. Too many backbench departures can give the impression National's lower ranks are lacking a sense of purpose and direction, too many incidents of obnoxious behaviour and the public will start to wonder what sort of standards are being required.

The Prime Minister's office has practically invited someone at the Hanmer Hotel to make a complaint on which he could act. Mr Gilmore's behaviour may have been well down the scale of unbecoming conduct but it suggests he is in the wrong place.

- NZ Herald

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