Not Just At The Gates - Within The Walls! Dr J.C. Beaglehole, writing in 1961, recorded with considerable disdain: “The naïve, the almost childish brutality, with which the chiefs of the National Party fell upon power may seem quite surprising, until one remembers how famished for power they were, and with what an innocency of experience they faced the world about them ..... [Their] insensitiveness to administrative delicacies was quite appalling.”
I’M NOT GOING TO GIVE YOU HER NAME because, to her credit, she later repented of her bad behaviour. Given her status as a newly-elected National Party MP, that was just as well. I’m only sorry that Alfred Ngaro (a Christian pastor!) was not persuaded to make a similar act of contrition following his recent, spectacularly public, deviation from the paths of political righteousness.
The 2008 General Election was only just behind us when I encountered this particular National MP. To say she was in a mood of heedless triumphalism would be to seriously understate her disposition. In spite of the fact that she was the dinner guest of a respectable NGO, and oblivious to the fact that she was surrounded by a host of witnesses (one of whom was a newspaper columnist) this provincial MP gave voice to the most incautious observations.
In summary, she declared to all and sundry that the views of the newly-elected National Government’s opponents were not worth the effort of a single act of fornication. (To be honest, she put it a little more succinctly than that!) John Key’s government, she said, would not be diverted from its course by lefties, greenies, bureaucrats – or any other variety of pointy-headed, politically-correct enemies of “Middle New Zealand”. Her loud and utterly unapologetic pronouncements made Michael Cullen’s infamous taunt: “We won. You lost. Eat that!”, sound wimpish by comparison.
Over the course of the evening it became increasingly clear to me that, for our voluble dining companion and other members of the National Party, the past nine years of Labour-led government had been the purest torture. To be ruled by the likes of Helen Clark, Michael Cullen, Margaret Wilson and Steve Maharey represented an inexplicable upending of the natural order of things. For a few agonising years, it really did seem as though government of farmers and businessmen, by farmers and businessmen, for farmers and businessmen – was about to perish from the earth.
This keen sensitivity to the travails of powerlessness was nothing new for the National Party. As Dr J.C. Beaglehole, writing in 1961, recorded with considerable disdain: “The naïve, the almost childish brutality, with which the chiefs of the National Party fell upon power may seem quite surprising, until one remembers how famished for power they were, and with what an innocency of experience they faced the world about them.”
While refusing to dismiss the entire National caucus as a horde of barbarians, Beaglehole was unsparing in his criticism of Prime Minister Sid Holland’s government. Its “insensitiveness to administrative delicacies” he said, “was quite appalling.”
“Insensitiveness to administrative delicacies” – what a lovely phrase! And how very applicable to Alfred Ngaro’s outrageous speech to the National Party’s Northern Regional Conference, in which he not-so-subtly warned state-funded NGOs against criticising government policy.
“We are not happy about people taking with one hand and throwing with the other,” the Minister for the Voluntary Sector told his fellow delegates. “Do not play politics with us. If you get up on the campaign trail and start bagging us, then all the things you are doing are off the table. They will not happen.”
Though he did not use Beaglehole’s words, the Prime Minister, Bill English, made it clear that he had only refrained from demanding Ngaro’s resignation on account of the junior minister’s “innocency of experience”.
The question remains, however, as to what sort of experience Ngaro is innocent of? Recalling the post-election behaviour of my voluble provincial MP, I would guess it to be the experience of exercising some discipline over one’s tongue when journalists are within earshot. Ngaro’s threats to punish critics of the National Government were, I am quite sure, well received by his fellow delegates. Less welcome, however, was the public outrage they occasioned.
When I encountered her a year after she had so recklessly displayed her contempt for the norms of democratic discourse, my former dinner companion was quick to disavow her errant behaviour. Obviously, some older and wiser political hand had drawn her aside after a similar episode and warned her against such expletive-laden frankness. An altogether smoother political operator, she was now very clearly headed for bigger and better things.
The doors to the Cabinet Room beckon this reformed backwoods Boadicea. What views she’ll give voice to behind them, I shudder to think.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 May 2017.