Metiria Turei has become Public Enemy Number 1.
Her audacious championing of the right of beneficiaries to get more out of the system, her two fingers to the Establishment, and her lack of contrition have all contributed to widespread condemnation of the Green Party co-leader.
Her campaign started off strong. But along the way it has been less smooth sailing than even she might have reckoned on.
Events have overtaken her, with a Labour leadership change that was - at least, in part - set in motion by her own actions. Some on the left were already unhappy at what they saw as an aggressive and reckless plundering of Labour's vote.
As details of further examples of deceit have been uncovered, they have cast a shadow over her credibility, leading commentators to make a harsh assessment of her.
There are dozens of examples of the negative reaction to Turei's benefit confession, and the subsequent revelations about electoral fraud. For some of the most interesting, see Mike Hosking's' Metiria Turei must resign, Cameron Slater's Are we really supposed to believe Metiria Turei?, the Herald's editorial, Second dishonest act makes Turei a liability , Patrick Gower's Jacinda Ardern must rule out Metiria Turei if she won't stand down, Fran O'Sullivan's So who's the boss now? Ardern leaves no doubt, and Peter Dornauf's Rich or poor, there is no excuse for theft. The list could go on and on.
Nearly all politicians have also sided against Turei, with Act's David Seymour leading the way. This is how Seymour responded to Turei's announcement that she wouldn't seek a ministerial position: "What a cop out. She needs to resign as MP. She's defrauded the taxpayer, used that fact to score political points, lied to the electoral commission, and misled voters about it" - see 1News' Labour 'expressed concerns' over Metiria Turei's WINZ history.
Turei's initial revelations saw the Greens receive a dramatic boost in the polls, but the wider public view appears to have become rather unfavourable towards Turei's benefit fraud - see Newshub's Most Kiwis say Metiria Turei was wrong to lie to WINZ.
Is Metiria Turei being unfairly judged?
But is the widespread condemnation of Metiria Turei over the top? Are the calls for her to resign as co-leader - or even from Parliament - fair? And was Labour's decision to throw her under the bus - telling her and the public that she would not be welcome as a minister in a Labour-led government - really in proportion to her crimes?
For many people, it seemed to be the additional revelations about Turei's electoral roll deceit that were the deciding factor in judging her to be beyond the pale. But electoral law expert Andrew Geddis - who admits he could be biased - says, "I'm not sure her youthful crimes really warrant such a penalty" - see: Yup, Metiria Turei broke the law. But this is a hell of a heavy price.
Geddis points out that "although her actions were an offence, a 23-year-old student doing the same thing today almost certainly would not be prosecuted for it."
Here's his main point, suggesting that we need to make a subjective moral or political judgement about her: "I guess that depends how harshly you want to judge a late-40s person for the fun-at-the-time-but-dumb-in-hindsight mistakes made in their early 20s. Treating the electoral system's rules as a bit of a joke (she was in a political party called 'McGillicuddy Serious', for crying out loud) seems to me to be pretty much at the lower end of that stupid shit scale. It certainly ranks below "got pissed but drove home anyway" - a crime I'm pretty sure many of our current MPs committed in their youth, but you can bet will never 'fess up to."
Journalist Henry Cooke has also looked into the severity of her electoral roll offence, and reports: "police said today they couldn't remember any prosecutions taken against someone for voting in the wrong electorate" - see: Why is everyone talking about Metiria Turei?. Furthermore, "students all over the country have remained enrolled at their parents place while living in other places, something the Electoral Commission is generally quite relaxed about. On the scale of electoral law - casting your one vote in the wrong electorate is on the lesser side. But it's not a great look."
Others have also been willing to defend Turei's benefit fraud. Brian Edwards says he's been disgusted "at the lack of honesty, self-awareness and common humanity displayed" by her opponents, who he characterises as an "army of self-righteous Kiwis" - see: On Whited Sepulchres.
He thinks there's a large dose of hypocrisy at play: "Yes, Metiria should have declared those extra flatmates; yes, she was wrong to give a false address to the Electoral Office. But how many of her critics, in similar circumstances - that is to say, on the bones of their arse - might not have done, may have done, much the same? And how many would have fessed up later? Here's how I see it: Registering on the wrong electoral roll to help a friend was an offence. But hey, nobody died. And not telling the IRD about your rent-sharing flatmates? Well, that's more serious. But if the words 'cash deal' have ever crossed your lips, you're in no position to judge."
Voices defending Metiria Turei
While the tide has turned definitively against Turei amongst commentators,
there have been a small number of commentators continuing to stand up for her. Lawyer Catriona MacLennan is reported as suggesting we should be applauding the Greens co-leader: "all Ms Turei was trying to do was improve her and her child's life, and that's worth celebrating" - see Newshub's Metiria Turei's frauds unlikely to end in jail time - lawyer. MacLennan works with beneficiaries being prosecuted, and "says it would be surprising if Ms Turei was criminally punished".
Former Green Party co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, has stood up for Turei, being reported as saying "there would be few New Zealanders who could look back 20 years and say they hadn't broken the law" - see the Herald's Green Party co-founder Jeanette Fitzsimons defends Metiria Turei, calling her 'courageous'.
Current co-leader, James Shaw, went on TVNZ's Q+A programme to defend Turei, emphasising that her benefit confession was part of a campaign to get a national conversation going on poverty and welfare: "We've tried everything, we've tried Member's bills, we've tried policies and campaigns, we've done virtually everything that we could... Sharing her story was pretty much the last thing that we had left, and if we had just released a policy it would have been over and done with within 48 hours" - see Newswire's 'Sharing her story was pretty much the last thing that we had left' - James Shaw defends Metiria Turei's welfare fraud admission.
Shaw suggests that the episode shows "We have this undercurrent of vitriol towards beneficiaries and poor people".
Russell Brown laments that Turei will not be a government minister, saying it's "a crying shame, because she has so much to offer politically and personally". He doesn't think she handled the whole issue very well, but also doesn't condemn her actions: "Our lives aren't always lived within the clean lines of the rules, and the vote she cast for a McGillicuddy Serious Party candidate was hardly about to change the balance of power. None of this is truly odious" - see: Metiria's Problem.
What sort of politicians do we want in Parliament and government?
Some have called for Turei to resign from Parliament. Others - including Jacinda Ardern - have said that she can now no longer be considered for any ministerial roles.
This all suggests that politics isn't a place for law breakers and rebels. But if we rule such people out of contention for Parliament and government, then those places become even less diverse than they currently are. So although there is a strong consensus about the need for more demographically under-represented people in Parliament, there seems less concern to have more diversity in terms of ideology and socio-economics. This means that we are getting a democracy that is outwardly more diverse, but with more bland politics.
Chris Trotter has written about how leftwing politics used to welcome more law-breakers. He thinks that Turei was right to withdraw from Cabinet contention. But he also outlines the other point of view - that law-breaking shouldn't rule politicians out from being in government: "Metiria could have challenged the politicians and journalists clamouring for her resignation to acknowledge the clear implications of their denunciations. To accept that if they are prepared to allow relatively minor legal infringements, committed many years in the past, to debar a politician from wielding executive power 25 years later, then what they are really saying is that no radical activist can be a Cabinet Minister" - see: The Right thing to do: Metiria Turei stands aside.
Trotter suggests that Turei could have challenged Labour's negative orientation to her: "she could have pointed out that the first Labour Cabinet contained a whole swag of radical activists whose youthful union activities in the Red Feds regularly involved breaches of the law. She could have pointed out that Labour's second prime minister, Peter Fraser, had been jailed for sedition during the First World War. Would Kelvin Davis have told Peter Fraser (or Paddy Webb, or John A Lee) that they had made their own beds and now they would have to lie in them?"
Similarly, the No Right Turn blogger says Turei's crimes are "utterly trivial" and "not the sort of thing that should rule anyone out from a political or Ministerial career" - see: Martyria.
Instead, he argues it was a different "crime" her opponents objected to: "Metiria's real crime wasn't stopping her kid from starving, or voting in the "wrong" electorate: it was putting the issue of our society's weaponisation of poverty front and centre, and standing up for the poor and downtrodden. And it has now been made crystal clear that that is absolutely intolerable to the establishment, and so she has been crucified for it. Which kindof proves her point, neh? We desperately need change. Political change and social change. We need a political system where people who have escaped poverty are allowed to seek power."
This point has also been made by her co-leader, who says "Parliament needs people like Metiria Turei in there to represent people who are living below the breadline... [We] need people who have experienced it first-hand" - see Anna Bracewell-Worrall's Parliament needs people like Metiria Turei - James Shaw.
As a democracy we are poorer for Turei's downfall, according to The Political Scientistblogger, who has written a lengthy discussion on The morality of poverty and the poverty of morality. He argues that the reaction to Turei shows "there is a moral poverty in New Zealand - especially when it comes to poverty. And that particular type of moral poverty has leached into the heart of political calculations - even, it seems, on the left of New Zealand politics."
He is particularly critical of the Labour Party and Jacinda Ardern, for turning on Turei: "those who participate in the 'vitriol' against beneficiaries and poor people have just had that vitriol silently ascented to by the leader of the Parliamentary left. So Ardern has firmly planted her 'pragmatism' foot on the ground but, on this issue of the punitive treatment of beneficiaries, will we see the 'idealist' foot fall? Ever? Ardern had every opportunity to lead, not just politically but morally. For whatever reason, she missed that opportunity."
Others on the left are angry with Labour, and particularly with Jacinda Ardern. For example, at The Standard, a strong message was conveyed: "I am disappointed at her lack of steel. She should, at the very least have defended the position that Metiria found herself in back in the 90s and highlighted the disadvantage faced by women and children every day, forcing many into making decisions that may well criminalise them. Instead Ardern bends to the dominant narrative, a narrative that primarily punishes women and does little to support her supposed feminist principles. This type of hypocrisy reinforces my disappointment in Labour because it suggests that we are simply going to get more of the same from them" - see: Messages for the Left.
But Turei herself seems unlikely to back down much further. She seems further emboldened to stay radical. Vernon Small reports that "Turei has pledged to fight on for her top political priorities, the poor and beneficiaries", and that she feels "the Greens had plugged in to the new international trend, where 'disruptive' politicians like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have energised voters - even with wildly different agendas - see: In modern politics you have to make people feel: Metiria Turei reflects on her benefit bomb.
Turei is quoted as being happy to continue to be polarising: "You are going to make them feel love for you, and you're going to make them feel hate for you. But if they don't feel, they're not going to come out. It's not going to matter to them. it's not going to work. I think this is the new politics. We've had that very managerial politics for a long time and Hillary Clinton was an example of that. Business as usual."
And for a more in-depth discussion of how the Greens have made steps to become more anti-Establishment, see John Moore's blog post, Jacinda throws Metiria under the bus, showing the Establishment that she's their woman.
Finally, for satire on this whole topic, see my blog post, Cartoons on the Metiria Turei controversies.