Gordon Campbell on firing Stuart Nash, plus a music playlist

a0ecdefb951a02d37a5a74af1d0580e9Here’s an analogy for the Stuart Nash saga. If people are to be forgiven for their sins, Catholic dogma requires two factors to be present. There has to be a sincere act of confession about what has been done, but also a sincere act of contrition, which signals a painful level of regret exists, and a commitment not to sin in this way again. Belatedly, Labour’s Stuart Nash confessed and offered his resignation from the Police portfolio, but he still seems spectacularly unable to grasp the need for contrition.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Two years ago, Nash had intervened on judicial discretion by calling for a long sentence on a matter still before the courts, and he narrowly avoided being prosecuted for contempt of court. Undaunted, Nash then intervened on Police discretion. He even boasted recently in a radio interview about what he’d done two years ago in ringing up Police Commissioner Andrew Coster concerning what Nash felt to be an overly lenient judicial sentence that Nash apparently wanted the Police to take to appeal.

Far from being contrite, Nash was offering the Coster phone call as evidence to listeners of his own ‘ tough on crime’ credentials. It was only after the ACT Party picked up the comments that Nash grasped the need to offer his resignation as Police Minister – while still doing interviews in which he minimised what he’d done, along ‘what’s the problem ?’lines. The only attempt at contrition so far has been Nash saying he “stuffed up.” ie. a plea for mercy.

Absolutely, I completely stuffed up, and you know what – if I was the prime minister I would have done exactly the same thing as our one did,” Nash said.”I own it, made a mistake, and onwards and upwards.”

The words come so easily. Yet lest we forget, Nash’s phone call to Coster – and the other incident, where he called for a tough sentence – were motivated by a desire to crack down harder on the offenders in question. Nash showed no sign of a merciful “they stuffed up, made mistakes, onwards and upwards” approach towards the misdeeds of others. Only to himself.

And besides… Sorry, but Cabinet Ministers are paid a basic salary of $296,007 plus perks on the condition that this disqualifies them from the luxury of stuffing up on the job.

In an ideal world, Nash’s lack of contrition and patent inability to understand what he did wrong should be compelling PM Chris Hipkins to remove Nash from all his other portfolios. After all, Hipkins has set the precedent in this area. At the time, the explanation that Hipkins gave the public as to why Rob Campbell had to lose all of his chairing roles with Crown agencies (while Steve Maharey could be kept on) was that Maharey had expressed contrition and Campbell hadn’t. So by Hipkins own recent precedent, Nash should have been gone from Cabinet by lunch-time.

Instead, Hipkins has been trying to separate out the two incidents. He has treated one as a historical event that’s done and dusted, the other as one for which Nash has been adequately punished by losing the Police portfolio. Yet the two incidents share too much in common for that to fly. The serial offending indicates that Nash learned nothing at all from his initial transgression and stern warning. Plainly Nash has no contrition beyond being caught, and little understanding of what he has (repeatedly) done wrong.

Theologically, judicially, politically… At some point there has to be a judgement call on wilful repeat offenders.

Hit the Road, Stuart

Percy Mayfield was an r&b songwriter best known for writing “Hit The Road. Jack” for Ray Charles, back at a time when Mayfield was recording for the Tangerine label that Charles owned. A Mr Smoove looking handsome fellow in his youth, Mayfield also wrote a bunch of other songs – “Rivers Invitation” “My Error” etc – that hid intense revenge lyrics behind their deceptively swinging facades. “Rivers Invitation” for example, wraps up in the last verse as a murder/suicide reverie. The guy had a dark sense of humour.

In this terrific party video, Mayfield sings “Hit The Road Jack” to a bunch of his friends at home, while Mark Naftalin of the Butterfield Blues Band lends him great support on piano. Even at 64 and in the last year of his life, Mayfield still had quite a presence.

Who would want to be a politician, money and perks regardless? Right now, Stuart Nash must be wondering. Percy Mayfield wrote a song about that, too.

De-centralising politics

Only political trainspotters care much about who wins candidate selection contests. Even so, the recent victories by Helen White in Mt Albert and Reuben Davidson in Christchurch East can both be seen as wins by the grassroots over what appeared to be the head office preferences. In a less tight election year, head office might have been more willing to impose its will. Pretty simple, really: this year, Labour may be sensing that its ground game on Election Day will be stronger if the candidate hasn’t been phoned in from head office.

These are both safe Labour seats. In Mt Albert, Labour list MP Helen White was up against another list MP, Carmela Belich. The Labour list rankings tell part of the story. White was ranked 48th, while Belich was ranked higher, at 30th. Also, as Toby Manhire pointed out in Spinoff:

Belich was appointed junior whip by Chris Hipkins alongside his first ministerial reshuffle… Her husband (and former co-chair of the NZ Students’ Association), Andrew Kirton, was recently announced as Hipkins’ chief of staff.

Belich is a talented politician, and those would be useful connections in any year. Yet it was White, a long-time resident of Sandringham, who prevailed. It needs to be said that neither White nor Davidson were rank outsiders. Both have carried the Labour banner in other seats in previous election campaigns. For his part, Davidson stood successfully for local government at last year’s local body elections, and is chairman of the Banks Peninsula Community Board.

At the crucial selection meeting last Sunday, Davidson went in as a narrow underdog against Labour list MP Dan Rosewarne, who was widely seen to be the head office preference. Rosewarne had entered Parliament from 52nd on the Labour list, after Kris Faafoi retired.

With hindsight, one can understand why Rosewarne chose to be profiled in the Christchurch Press only two days before the candidate selection meeting. Presumably, this exposure was meant to raise his profile and boost his support among the locals. It may have ended up being an own goal. Unwittingly, the Press article looked like a premature victory lap, while also (possibly) eroding some of Rosewarne’s support at head office, which tends to prefer its fait accomplis to be carried out in silence.

We will never know for sure how these rituals finally play out. The Christchurch East nomination vote was very close, and the selection meeting went way past the expected time for a decision. For now, Davidson will be the dutiful carrier of Labour’s messages. If his track record of community work is anything to go by, Christchurch East has picked someone with a track record of dedication to the grassroots slog of electorate politics.

In the interim, the fact Davidson’s brother is the musician Delaney Davidson would also suggest that the Christchurch East Labour HQ will be the go-to party location in Christchurch, come election night in October.

Music Playlist

For the weekend, here’s a music playlist of recent music released in 2023, plus a couple of older tracks: