I'm not going to make excuses for James Shaw. There are none to be made. When the co-leader of the Green Party insisted the Government allocate $11.7 million to the private Green School in Taranaki, he abandoned principle and policy, discredited the party and put its electoral fortunes in serious jeopardy. No other Greens sprang to his defence: it's clear he acted alone.
I'd say he should be ashamed of himself, except it's obvious he already is. And yet there is more to this episode than the shame of Shaw.
His own responses have been revealing. Asked if he'd do it again, he started to stumble out an obfuscating answer, stopped himself and said probably not. Since then he's firmed to a definite no.
On Tuesday he delivered a string of apologies to everyone he'd let down, including teachers, schools, party members and supporters. He frankly agreed he had jeopardised the Greens' chances of returning to Parliament.
It's impossible to imagine the leader of any other party saying these things. Shaw is like George Washington, the boy who, so the story goes, cut down a cherry tree and "could not tell a lie" when confronted about it. Shaw, like Washington, owned his dishonour. He's just not good at the brazen end of politics.
Winston Peters promptly called him "naive", which is one way of looking at it. Peters himself has made an art of never owning to a mistake. Dissimulation is his watchword: it is the quality that made him the Right Honourable Winston Peters.
It's not just Peters. How often do any of the other party's leaders own to a mistake?
Just this week, Judith Collins has been busy defending her husband's promotion of sneeringly sexist Facebook memes about Jacinda Ardern. She laughs about it. She says she doesn't control what he does and he's getting lots of support from "blokes telling him he's a real bloke".
For heaven's sake. She could have said she told him to pull his head in because in the National Party they're better than that. But she chose not to. Never admit you're wrong, never show weakness. And let the dogs out.
Collins often expresses her disdain for sexism in politics, so why does she condone it now? Because having a boorish husband on the loose might swing a few bloke votes? Surely not. Collins is an honourable woman. As with Peters, it says so in her title: the Honourable Judith Collins.
She wants Shaw to resign. Why does anyone give credence to that? She's just poking a political stick at him because her party is very keen for his party not to return to Parliament.
As for the Green School controversy, it would be consistent with National's principles for Collins to applaud the funding. Isn't the school run by forward-thinking entrepreneurs and doesn't Taranaki, especially its construction industry, deserve support?
But political point-scoring trumps economic enterprise. All very honourable.
And the PM? The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern and her ministers have been less than frank with us, more than once, about the quality of border controls during the Covid crisis.
On a wider front, Ardern won the last election with signature pledges to reduce poverty and confront the climate crisis. How shocking to learn, just yesterday, that New Zealand ranks only 35th in Unicef's survey of child wellbeing.
That's not Ardern's fault – it speaks to decades of neglect – but it does highlight the need for a radical rethink of New Zealand's attitude to inequality. Ardern and Labour have not embraced that need.
Instead, when the PM is asked about such things, she dissembles, in ways that surely infuriate not just her enemies but many of her supporters too.
Perhaps most disappointingly, Ardern knows what every economist also knows: to make any serious inroads on inequality, tax reform is essential. And yet she ruled out a capital gains tax, rejected the Greens' tax reform policies and has done nothing to promote any other option.
But Ardern is an honourable politician so that's that.
As for David Seymour at Act, how hilarious that this tireless promoter of personal freedoms, this resolute opponent of "social engineering", supports school zoning. Because his Epsom electorate overlaps the grammar zone and he needs the votes.
We say we hate the hypocrisy. We want our politicians to be honest and decent and to give a straight answer when they're asked a question. But what do we mean when we admire their ability to "talk their way out of it" or "laugh off the criticism"?
Why do we admire a leader's brazen denial of wrongdoing or moral failure more than James Shaw's confession that he stuffed up?
There's a lot at stake in all this. In the progress the Government has made this term, many of the key reforms have been Green Party initiatives.
The Zero Carbon Act is the outcome of a rare and remarkable cross-party consensus on the climate crisis. With the Climate Change Commission now in place, real progress is now possible. James Shaw made that happen.
Shaw also led reform of the Emissions Trading Scheme, set up green investment programmes, won bans on oil and gas exploration and KiwiSaver investments in fossil fuels and signed off $800 million worth of green-oriented projects in the $3 billion "shovel-ready" programme.
Tireless advocacy by Green MP Jan Logie produced our biggest-ever programme to combat family violence and sexual violence. The Department of Conservation got its biggest funding boost in years and there's a $1.1 billion fund for "nature jobs": both achieved by Conservation Minister and Green MP Eugenie Sage.
Party co-leader Marama Davidson is the parliamentary champion of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, whose report lays the groundwork for that much-needed rethink on how to reduce poverty. Medicinal cannabis would not be legal and we would not be having a cannabis referendum were it not for Green MPs Chloe Swarbrick and Julie Anne Genter.
Genter also achieved the largest-ever funding boost for primary-care maternity services and introduced the game-changing Equal Pay Amendment Act. Green MP Golriz Ghahraman got our refugee quota increased and has been an outstanding advocate for the vulnerable.
The list goes on: the right to ask for paid leave if you're dealing with domestic violence, the ban on single-use plastic bags, larger sanctuaries for Maui and Hector's dolphins, trials of free mental health services for young people, extra funding to insulate and heat old homes, record investments in cycleways ...
There's also a great deal more to do, much of it, like Genter's plan for more affordable electric vehicles, blocked in this last term by NZ First.
For next term, the Greens have a progressive reform agenda, properly costed, that includes: clearing the waiting list for social housing within five years, a Guaranteed Minimum Income and tax reform, a much better deal for renewable energy, a bigger shift to public transport and so much more.
But still, voters who want those things may now be thinking about Shaw.
He stumbles in interviews. He cannot tell a lie. He's useless at the worst parts of politics. His judgment just let him down.
Well. I'm sorry to discover James Shaw has feet of clay. For some, it won't matter that other party leaders do too, because he was supposed to be better than that.
But I think New Zealand needs the Green Party in Parliament. Not because they're paragons of virtue. But because of what's coming in the climate crisis. Because of what the party achieved this term where no other did, and because of what it will have to spearhead in the next.
I think it should be in Parliament now more than ever. With Shaw. What he's good at, we need.