Spare a thought for Brendan Horan. He's a duly elected Member of Parliament about whom I know three things. One: he has rung the TAB from his parliamentary-supplied mobile phone. Two: he is embroiled in a messy dispute with family members over his late mother's estate. Three: he's been fired from his caucus.

The first he knew he was sacked was when his former leader, Winston Peters, told Parliament. He had no chance to defend himself, or even to know why he was sacked. It remains unclear whether he has done anything wrong. No charges have been laid.

He has now been kicked out of his party, New Zealand First. That should have proved trickier than kicking him from caucus. The party is bound by its constitution and the courts can adjudicate. Its board should have followed due process, which means explaining to him the reasons for his expulsion and giving him the opportunity to respond.

The board members deciding his case would also have to show they had no predetermination, meaning Peters could give evidence against Horan but would have had to excuse himself from sitting in judgment. Expelling party members is fraught.


I know all this because long ago I had to appear before my own party's board to argue against my own expulsion. It's part and parcel of an exciting political career. I have also had occasion to cause members to be expelled.

Horan has chosen to go quietly rather than to fight. It's probably the correct thing to do. New Zealand First is not a functioning political party. It's very much a one-man band.

There are calls now for him to resign from Parliament, most strongly from Peters. Horan is resisting, claiming he's done nothing wrong. It's a reasonable point. The allegations against him haven't even been formulated, let alone proved.

Horan is now an independent MP for whom Parliament can be a very lonely place - spurned by his own party and not trusted by the others.

There is a public clamour that Horan is a list MP and therefore, having been ditched by his caucus, automatically should be ditched from Parliament. The logic is that as a list MP Horan is only there courtesy of the party.

But so, too, are electorate MPs. National and Labour MPs win their electorate seats because they stand for their party. They would not win them as independents. Constituent MPs owe their places in Parliament to their party every bit as much as list MPs.

There are precious few checks and balances on our Parliament. One of the few is the prospect of dissenting MPs who serve as a big check on party leaders. Give leaders the power to sack dissenting MPs from Parliament and our leaders would be autocratic. MPs would be mere ciphers. Party leaders would be all powerful.

The prospect and pain of ex-caucus members sitting on Parliament's sidelines happy to provide running commentary on their former party's performance is a powerful, important check on parliamentary leadership, believe you me.

Of course, Horan hasn't yet decided to revel in that new-found status. He could perhaps start by pointing out that it is unprecedented for an MP's phone records to be made public.

The phones are made available for MPs' work and personal use. No distinction is made between personal and business calls. There is nothing against MPs placing a TAB bet via their parliamentary-supplied phone.

Horan could suggest that now his phone records have been made public, all New Zealand First MPs could usefully release theirs. I know Peters would refuse indignantly. No doubt there's plenty on his phone record Peters wouldn't want made public.

But it may be that Horan just accepts his sad and lonely lot. He shouldn't be surprised about how it's turned out. History shows that to travel with Peters is to ride wild and rough.