Chris Carter's behaviour in recent months has seemed quite bizarre to me. How could someone who was a very highly ranked Cabinet Minister not that long ago have so little political nous as to act the way he has?
Today's display has of course been the weirdest to date, but his reactions around the travel and expenses issue earlier in the year were incredibly counter-productive and only served to demonstrate his hubris. When there are National MPs who should have been in the media glare for their misuse of public funds Carter seemed to actively want to hog the media spotlight for himself, as if what he'd done could be good for him and for Labour, rather than just seeking to reinforce the public's bad opinion on MPs.
This afternoon and evening has been the ultimate own goal for him, as he's continued to dig by doing a whole heap of media after being caught authoring and circulating what seems to be a highly exaggerated (at the least) letter of in favour of overthrowing Goff as Labour leader. To be brief, Carter has made himself look like a dick.
Sadly for Labour, and for Goff, he's also heavily embarassed them. The Right have been running the Lame Duck Labour Leader line for a while now, somewhat unfairly in my humble opinion. If Labour lose the next election then it will have more to do with the NZ electorate's frustrating insistence on giving Prime Ministers a fair go. It'll take a lot to shift the public view that it's still John Key's turn at bat. Labour may not be doing the best job of capitalising on opportunities*, but they face a media who are only just starting to sometimes think Key might be a bit sparse on the integrity front and polling which reflects the usual parlous situation for the Opposition at this point in the electoral cycle but is being breathlessly reported as if it weren't. I reckon it's not so much that Labour is cocking up a lot, more that they haven't resolved the Vision Thing problem they had at the last election (i.e. no coherent reason to vote Labour other than to keep National out). I don't know that it's fair to expect them to have a cohesive Why You Should Vote Labour message this far out from the general election, when they do have internal democratic structures that should be driving the policy that is at the heart of that, and that will take time.
Anyway, enough about how Labour's polling and chances are mostly not Phil Goff's fault. Back to the more current issue of WTF is going on with Chris Carter?
My theory is that he simply has not made the transition to being in Opposition. He was a Cabinet Minister for 9 years, a close friend of the Prime Minister at the time, and got all the privileges that both of those things bring for almost a decade. To be without them, when one has such a large ego, must be intolerable. So he's acting out, casting around to lay blame and big noting himself when it's not really merited. The Campbell Live interview with him tonight was revealing; he was obviously revelling in the attention, as he was at the airport earlier, and the way he has acted over this, and the expenses issue, has been quite at odds with his stated intentions. There's a level of irrationality in Carter's actions that to me suggests he hasn't adjusted to his new life at all.
Which will probably have the effect of giving Carter another new life. One outside of Parliament, a pariah to most in Labour, and seen as too much of a loose unit to get the directorships and governance roles that his Cabinet experience might otherwise merit. It's pretty sad really.
* Actually there are many individual Labour MPs who I think are doing a great job at raising issues, like Carol Beaumont on loan sharks, Grant Robertson on public service cuts, and Sue Moroney on early childhood funding. They are well filling the role of Opposition MPs, to hold the Government to account, and they're not getting the traction they deserve.