The most alarming feature of the Jami-Lee Ross fiasco isn't the less than startling claim that Parliament is allegedly a hotbed of marital infidelity.

Nor is it that the National Party allegedly played fast and loose, in some as yet unexplained fashion, with a handsome donation to last year's election campaign fund, or that it seemingly takes ethnicity into account when it picks its list candidates.

What should really chill our hearts is the reaction to National Party leader Simon Bridges' assessment of one of his list MPs as useless, and that he should emphasise that assessment with an expletive.

"To say what you really think is to run the risk of being labelled racist, sexist, misogynist, any number of ists. To speak honestly is to invite ridicule, and ironically, as Simon Bridges seems destined to learn the hard way ..."

Newstalk ZB host Leighton Smith put it nicely last week when he asked if we have become scared to be honest. Many would agree that if we had not already reached that point some time ago, we have now.


Mr Bridges described West Coast list MP Maureen Pugh as useless in what he believed was a private conversation with his chief whip. He had every right to trust Mr Ross that the contents of that discussion would not become public.

Maureen Pugh, whose impact as a politician has been so underwhelming that many people, the writer included, had to Google her last week to find out who she was, might be a very nice, intelligent, well-intentioned person, but the fact that she has got so far into her career without achieving any sort of public recognition suggests that she is not a natural.

This despite her responsibility for representing the Opposition in the field of children's affairs. One of the more high-profile portfolios, one would imagine.

Whether or not she's any good at her job is irrelevant. Mr Bridges' crime was to describe her as failing to contribute, the sort of comment that is made every day, in every field of human endeavour.

Newsflash: some MPs are indeed 'useless,' or are widely perceived to be so. So are some civil servants, doctors, nurses, journalists, school teachers, printers, bus drivers, managers, supermarket checkouts, stop/go men and women. They are all around us, in every occupation. And their uselessness is routinely noted and discussed. Just not quite as publicly as Mr Bridges' assessment of Ms Pugh.

Put your hand up if you would be happy for your derogatory comment about a colleague, boss or whoever, that you thought you were making behind closed doors, to be plastered all over the country's front pages.

Put your hand up if you have ever expressed a less than flattering view of someone you work with. And then say, with a straight face, that Simon Bridges should not only be ashamed of himself but was right to apologise to Ms Pugh.

He should not have done so. He might have regretted using the expletive, and the fact that the comment made headlines (although that was neither his intention nor his doing), but he should not have apologised for his patently genuine assessment of Ms Pugh's contribution to the party.


Her acceptance of that apology, and insistence that Mr Bridges actually values her, is either extraordinarily naive or evidence that she does not feel strong enough to take offence.

Either way, she has already returned to the obscurity whence she came.

Meanwhile the discussion between Messrs Bridges and Ross regarding the pros and cons of bunging Chinese candidates on to the party list rather than Indians is even less worthy of shock and horror.

This is the reality of MMP. Thank you to all those who voted for it. This is what you have given us.

But what, exactly, is the problem in talking about which candidates might attract the greatest support come the next election? Is this not entirely relevant, particularly when the subject of discussion is an electorate where around half the voters are Asian immigrants? If you were a party leader, and you wanted to capture hearts, minds and votes in such an electorate, who would you be looking for? An Eskimo?

What has happened is, once again, the media are leading the news rather than reporting it by actively cultivating outrage, not necessarily because they themselves are outraged but because it gives the story much greater significance than it deserves, and longevity. Every political party in this country selects candidates based on their appeal to their particular constituency.

The Greens don't go looking for climate change deniers. Act doesn't go looking for screaming socialists. Labour looks for its candidates on the left, National looks on the right. Not one of those parties, those that have contested elections in the past or will do so in the future, has sought or will seek candidates without direct appeal to the electors they hope will give them seats.

The qualities that are seen to give a candidate appeal to electors are not restricted to ethnic origin, however. These days celebrity is given equal if not greater value. We have been invited over a number of elections past to cast our votes for people whose only identifiable qualification seems to be name recognition.

How many high-profile people have been given places on party lists, and won seats in Parliament, never to be heard of again? With very few exceptions they have not been groomed for greatness. The fact that they are well known clearly does not equate to any political ability. The only time they are likely to make the news is when they display their lack of political nous.

Having helped their party win votes, they have done their job. They not expected to contribute further. Perhaps they have turned out to be useless. Perhaps they were always expected to be.

Such is our reality. But now we know, if we didn't before, that we must overlook a lack of ability, talent or commitment. And not just in terms of those we elect to govern us.

A current prominent MP told the writer years ago, before he went into politics, that he had several staff who really shouldn't keep their jobs.

But he couldn't get rid of them. They were useless, but the system protected them. Poor as their performance was, they would have their careers for as long as they wanted them. Nothing has changed. In fact it's probably worse now than it was then.

Therein lies one of our major problems. We are indeed now scared to be honest, whether that involves dispensing with people who are not fit for their positions, even if they are doing identifiable damage, or stating our views on myriad issues, from the state of education, the reality of climate change, the role of social welfare or whether the Treaty of Waitangi was designed as a partnership between the signatories.

If you don't like it, just grin and bear it. To say what you really think is to run the risk of being labelled racist, sexist, misogynist, any number of ists. To speak honestly is to invite ridicule, and ironically, as Simon Bridges seems destined to learn the hard way, to suffer the fate so richly deserved by those who have risen far beyond their level of competence, and deserve to be outed.

We have reached a point where the honest expression of opinions, once regarded as a virtue, has become dangerous. And that goes a very long way to explaining why so much in society today is going wrong. The best and only survival technique today is a willingness to relentlessly admire the emperors's new clothes. And sound like you mean it.