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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Don't sue, Colin it's the deal

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Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has issued threats of legal proceedings six times since entering politics. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has issued threats of legal proceedings six times since entering politics. Photo / Mark Mitchell

I'm not sure Conservative Party leader Colin Craig is cut out for politics. Wannabe politicians of the progressive persuasion want to change society; small "c" conservatives want to keep things as they are; reactionaries want to turn the clock back.

But to do that, they have to get elected. A sensible approach to getting people to vote for you is to keep reasons not to vote for you to a minimum.

Craig thinks gay relationships aren't "normal", which isn't likely to endear him to those who don't like the idea of politicians categorising the citizenry as "normal," "abnormal" and "sub-normal".

Given the historical precedents, you'd hope that's the vast majority of us.

For five years he brooded over a 2007 report claiming New Zealand women were the most promiscuous in the world. I don't imagine many Kiwis outside the tourism industry were thrilled that an aspiring politician should set such store by sketchy and - given human beings' well-documented tendency to lie about their sex lives - unreliable surveys which portrayed our womenfolk in a questionable light.

The conspiracy theory community makes a lot of noise, but it's much smaller than all that ranting and raving might suggest. Strange, then, that the would-be politician professes to have "no idea" whether man has set foot on the moon.

The notion that the moon landing was faked is to conspiracy theories what marijuana allegedly is to drug use - the gateway to some pretty heavy stuff.

As Brian Rudman noted this week in his Herald column, Craig is familiar with the "work" of David Ickes, an Englishman who makes the average conspiracy theorist seem like the infuriatingly rational Viz magazine character Mr Logic.

Craig detects "validity" in Ickes' "first premise" that a shadowy elite is manipulating world events for its own nefarious ends. I suppose we should be thankful that he "can't subscribe to [Ickes'] reptilian hypothesis". On the other hand, "hypothesis" is an extraordinarily generous characterisation of Ickes' belief that the world is controlled by the Babylonian brotherhood, an ancient race descended from reptilian creatures from the constellation Draco and living in tunnels and caverns inside the earth.

Then there's his self-proclaimed flouting of the law of the land. Clearly Craig's justification for occasionally disciplining his daughter by hand is that the law, in the form of the anti-smacking legislation, is an ass.

But plenty of New Zealanders think the same about marijuana use, watching and listening to pirated material via the internet and cutting down native trees on their own property, to name but a few. Would Craig encourage them to follow his lead, or does he think that only he and people who share his views should be able to determine that a law is flawed and can be flouted with impunity?

Now he's drawn attention to his predilection for calling in Messrs Sue, Grabbit & Runne when someone has a verbal crack at him. Yesterday he said he had asked his lawyers to draft a statement of claim and advise him on the costs and timeframe for a defamation case against Greens co-leader Russel Norman, his sixth such legal threat since entering politics.

There are various reasons why the democratic process is no place for people with the mindset of sue first and ask questions later. Before getting to them I would remind Craig that, while the law of defamation is heavily tilted in favour of the plaintiff, this blunt instrument has sometimes proved to be a weapon of self-destruction.

There is no such thing as absolute free speech - defamation law is proof of that - but democracy depends on political discourse being as unrestrained as possible. Legal action is expensive, and a wealthy politician for whom it's the first or second - rather than last - resort runs the risk of being seen as a rich bully.

There is a privileged minority who don't have to worry about the consequences of tipping a bucket over their fellow citizens. They can say whatever they like, secure in the knowledge that the law of defamation doesn't apply to them. That group is elected politicians for whom parliamentary privilege provides protection from the consequences of running off at the mouth.

All the more reason, then, that they should grin and bear it when they're on the receiving end.

Craig doesn't like being made to look ridiculous. Few of us do, but we don't aspire to make laws and spend other people's money.

There's a time-honoured trade-off that he needs to get his head around in a hurry - politicians get to run the country and tell the rest of us what to do; we get to take the piss out of them. That's the deal.

- NZ Herald

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