Thursday, 29 July 2010

So farewell, Chris Carter

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.


Andrei said...

My theory is that he is a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

A self absorbed little man who cares about nothing but himself.

The Labour party would be well rid of him,

His behavior is nothing short of disgraceful and shameful.

David said...

My thoughts exactly on Chris Carter. After 3 terms in government Labour are going through what National went through after their 3 terms. National will almost certainly win the next election and probably the one after that, Labour will most likely win 2017. That is just the way the election cycle works, and in 2018 & 2019 we will see the pitiful sight of former National Government cabinet ministers adjusting to live as an ordinary MP.

katy said...

*And Lynne Pillay on cuts to OT/PT therapy support in schools for children with disabilities!

Mac1 said...

And Brendon Burns on water quality.

Anonymous said...

And Chris Carter on destroying Labour... heh :)

Carol said...

I find it hard to make a definite conclusion about various facets of this issue. To me there seems to be faults on all sides. Also, it taps into my feeling that there is a need for the left, including the Labour Party, to rethink the way forward. They may be in the process of doing this, but it still looks to me like it needs a lot of thought & work.

I have been with-holding judgement on Goff till I see more of his performance as leader. However, in terms of policy, he seems more right wing than I would like.

I did feel, along with Brian Edwards,

that while Carter has behaved badly of late, he also has been treated unfairly in many ways too. The media singled him out, and hammered him as the worst offender in Ministerial credit card spending, which I think was unfair - there were others just as guilty to the left & right. Also, while the spending was wrong, it got way more media attention than it should have. Furthermore, the whole issue was complicated because some of the reports of Carter's spending had homophobic undertones.

I do feel Goff could probably have handled the whole issue better, so that we didn't end up with this Carter melt-down. I felt in the way Goff immediately dealt with Carter a few weeks back, he colluded a bit with the media & the right's slanted approach, and threw Carter to the wolves. Then we got that absurd chase of Carter around parliament by the media.

At this point, I have no idea whether Goff is the best leader so far for Labour. I'm not keen that he seems to have allowed the undercurrents of homophobia to continue to fester in relation to Carter. Goff may learn from his mistakes and draw on this experience to become a very capable leader and/or PM. But, IMO, at the moment he hasn't shown great political management skills in the way he has dealt with Carter from the beginning.

And Carter may have, either advertantly or inadvertantly touched on the main faultline in Labour at the moment - the need to move away from it's collusion with elements of neoliberalism, and get back to more strongly supporting ordinary working (and unemployed) Kiwis.

Andrew Little, on the other hand, has come to my attention for the first time as being almost "statesman-like", and likely to be a key player in the future of the Larbour party.

Carter has done several wrong and/or stupid things of late. But he has served the Labour Party and his constituents well in the past. Others come out of this not looking so great either.

Julie said...

I wonder, quite seriously, about what support is given to MPs when they have the kind of huge change in status that Carter has gone through in the last year and a half.

In an employment situation you would expect an employer to provide EAP support in such an instance of massive restructuring, but in politics people are just supposed to suck it up, or seek assistance privately and without fuss.

Should it be the role of a party leader to look after this? A party president? Someone else? These are not rhetorical questions, interested in your views.

I do think that some of the media focus on Carter over the expenses stuff was unfair. I got quite enraged at the whole "he sent flowers to his partner, who's a MAN ZOMG!!11!!, on his birthday" example. If I was away on work for my partner's birthday, and I was away travelling for work a lot, then actually it's not unreasonable for the employer to bear some of the costs of helping me to maintain a healthy home life, such as the odd bunch of flowers on someone's birthday. Or don't we want Parliament to be the kind of environment where our MPs can be supported to maintain their relationships? Surely MPs are more productive if they aren't struggling in their home lives?

Carol said...

Julie, I just have some observations about the complexity of the issues, and some dubious practices by the media, and related dubious attitudes. I'm not sure what a party should offer, as it's outside my experience. I wasn't thinking so much about a party supporting the mental state of its MPs, although, I guess it would be in their interests to do that.

It just seems to me that a really skilled, perceptive and capable manager of the party (and potentially a government) would have dealt with Carter earlier in a way that would have prevented his later melt-down.

I don't know if that was mainly Goff's role, or Little's as the party president, or a mixture of the two. But overall, Goff should take direct responsibility for overseeing whatever approach they used.

Many people say success with the electorate is about building a narrative. It seems to me that Goff has let others outside his party/caucus dictate the narrative he followed in his responses to Carter's ministerial spending.

Some are saying it will be better for the Labour Party if they resolve the Carter issue as soon as possible to get it out of the public eye. Maybe they are right? Or maybe the narrative they use is more important?

I have been impressed with Little's public responses. He has been very clear as to what he stands for, both with Carter, and on National's proposed employment law changes. And in doing this, he seems to be building his own narrative, based on what he stands for: he is emphasised dealing with Carter according to fair employment practices. It's a narrative that's bigger than any one of the details or issues he's dealing with right now.

But I'm also giving Goff the benefit of the doubt, that he can learn from his missteps, and develop the managerial skills required.

Hugh said...

From what I understand of it, Carter's position inside (or outside) the Shadow Cabinet is a matter for the party leader (eg Goff) but his status as a party member or not is a matter for the president (Little).