Reprehensible: There is much that could be said about Michael Woodhouse, but what would be the point? Any man who willingly involves himself in a situation as reprehensible as the one depicted in the above photograph has already vouchsafed all that decent people need to know about his character. That there have been no reports of the National MP apologising to Clare Curran, or making any other attempt to atone for this vile incident, merely confirms the futility of pursuing Mr Woodhouse any further.
IT’S ONE OF those rules that every politician lucky enough to have a responsible political mentor learns very early. Never say or do anything that you wouldn’t be happy to see reported on the front page of the daily newspapers.
The former National Party Prime Minister, John Key, must have been blessed with such a mentor at a very early age. No matter how hard the Labour Party trawled through Key’s past (and they trawled very hard indeed!) they always came away empty-handed.
This absence of dirt was all the more remarkable given Key’s chosen profession. Currency traders are notorious for their reckless lifestyles. But, while the future prime minister’s friends and colleagues were winging their way across the Atlantic to sample the manifold delights of New York and Las Vegas, Key was on his way home to his wife and kids in the suburbs. It was almost as if he was proactively protecting himself from the sort of past his political enemies would one day be desperate to exploit.
Clearly, National’s Michael Woodhouse has never made the acquaintance of a responsible political mentor. Had he done so he would never have allowed himself to be photographed holding up a toilet seat with Dunedin South MP Clare Curran’s face attached to it.
One must assume that Mr Woodhouse is far from happy that the image in question, and all it says about him, is everywhere on-line and in the news media. Moreover, if National’s Health spokesperson really has no memory of the circumstances in which this disgusting photograph was taken – and Mr Woodhouse insists that he does not – then he is far beyond the help of any sort of mentor.
Perhaps he should learn how to pray?
There is much more that could be said about Mr Woodhouse, but what would be the point? Any man who willingly involves himself in a situation as reprehensible as the one depicted in the photograph has already vouchsafed all that decent people need to know about his character. That there have been no reports of the National MP apologising to Ms Curran, or making any other attempt to atone for this vile incident, merely confirms the futility of pursuing Mr Woodhouse any further.
The only entity worth pursuing in this whole sordid story is the National Party itself.
The comic maestro, Groucho Marx, once quipped that he could never join any club that was prepared to have him as a member. What, then, does it say about National that eight years after allowing himself to photographed displaying that appalling toilet seat, Mr Woodhouse remains a member in good standing of both the National Party and its caucus?
More importantly, what does it say about National’s new leader, Todd Muller?
For the sake of argument, let’s give Mr Muller the benefit of the doubt and say that he knew nothing of the toilet seat with Ms Curran’s face on it: that he was as shocked and appalled by its crudity as every other decent New Zealander. But if, as we all hope, that was Mr Muller’s reaction, then are we not entitled to ask why he didn’t take the next obvious step of demanding Mr Woodhouse’s immediate resignation?
Because that is what any decent, honourable leader of a political party looking to become the next government of New Zealand would have done. Such a leader would have transformed this sordid stain on his party’s reputation into a learning opportunity. He would have made it clear to every member of his caucus and party that anyone deriving any sort of perverse excitement from such scatological misogyny had no place in either. He would have used the occasion to reaffirm his determination to elevate politics above the bloody cruelty of the bearpit. To make of the word “honourable” something more than a perfunctory honorific. And, finally, to demonstrate his bona fides, Mr Muller would have tendered his apology to Ms Curran on behalf of every National Party member.
At the time of writing, however, Mr Muller has made no obvious effort to do any of these things. Mr Woodhouse remains a member in good standing of the National Party club.
Which raises the obvious question: If this malodorous boot was on the left foot of New Zealand politics, what would Jacinda Ardern be expected to do?
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 July 2020.