Friday 12 August 2022

Parting Shots.

On The Way Out: Gaurav Sharma has clearly had enough of Parliament and is more than ready to return to his life as a medical professional. What he has been willing to do on the way out, however, is draw aside the curtain, if only for a moment, and let the electors of New Zealand see how their representatives are treated. For this, those same electors owe him a vote of thanks. 

GAURAV SHARMA has clearly had enough of parliamentary life. Equally clearly, he is not suited to it. Nevertheless, he has made an extremely useful contribution to the bullying debate.

His op-ed piece for the NZ Herald confirms what all political journalists should know: that Parliament is Ground Zero for institutionalised bullying. It would, however, be naïve to expect members of the Press Gallery to augment Sharma’s observations with their own. The Press Gallery is no less enmeshed in the system of punishments and rewards that pervades every corner of the parliamentary complex than the MPs themselves.

What emerges from the Gallery and the Labour Party itself over the next few days promises to be a master-class in the art of dismissing, diminishing and disparaging an individual who has had the temerity to breach the iron law of omerta which governs the practice of party politics.

Like Fight Club, the first rule of party politics is not to talk about party politics.

It is to be hoped that Sharma is a resilient person, because the amount of emotional violence heading his way will likely be personally devastating.

That hope may be a vain one, however, since Sharma appears to have entered Parliament without the necessary acculturation to the vicious political environment of the New Zealand Labour Party.

Purely from the perspective of an outsider, Sharma’s selection appears to have been a pro-forma affair. Very few Labour strategists would have anticipated success in the Hamilton seats – which, prior to 2020, had been in National’s column for four elections in a row. Sharma would likely have seen himself as nothing more than a booster of Labour’s Party Vote. A not unreasonable view, given his Number 63 position on Labour’s Party List. Just as it did for most Hamiltonians, Sharma’s victory in Hamilton West would have come as a mighty shock.

Nothing like as big a shock, however, as the political culture of the Labour Caucus. Those Labour politicians who spent years fighting their way into Parliament would have had an enormous advantage over a political naïf like Sharma. They would know what to expect. Whose way to keep out of. Whose prospects to block. And, whose hunting party to join when the Leader’s minions identified a member of caucus to be taken down a peg or two. All of them would have mastered the courtier’s art of sucking-up and punching-down. Putting it bluntly, a disturbingly high proportion of Sharma’s colleagues would be – as he has now charged – bullies.

Those who weren’t bullies would’ve been doormats. Selected as candidates for their placidity and biddability, they are the sort of people who can be relied upon to back their party right or wrong, and to support whoever occupies the top leadership roles with an equally undiscerning fervour. The traditional term for these types is “hack”. Sharma likely found these Labour lambs even more disturbing than Labour’s wolves.

Judging from his op-ed piece, Sharma may even have been labouring under the misapprehension that he was in Parliament to represent the electors of Hamilton West. He may even have thought that they were the people to whom he was ultimately answerable. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! That is merely his constitutional role.

His actual role is to shut up and do as the Whips command. Make a speech on a subject he knows nothing about. Sit on a Select Committee and vote exactly as the Labour Chair indicates – no matter how wrong or stupid. Most importantly, say nothing, write nothing, and do nothing that attracts unwanted attention.

The poor man would soon have discovered that this “sit still and shut up” rule applied with equal force in caucus. If he was ever incautious enough to stand up in front of his colleagues and express views contrary to those of the Front Bench, then he would very soon have appreciated why those tasked with the responsibility for keeping the Back Bench under control are called “Whips”.

Think about it for a moment. Labour has a caucus of 65 MPs. Most of them, like Sharma himself, highly qualified professionals. How, then, is it possible that all but two of these intelligent and (presumably) principled men and women (the exceptions being Louisa Wall and, now, Sharma) have never even once spoken out of turn or (God forbid!) expressed a viewpoint on any major – or even minor – issue that was not in 100 percent conformity with the official party line? What does it take to inspire and maintain that sort of collective discipline? The answer, tragically, is fear. Fear of being written-off as a troublemaker; and fear of the emotional violence inevitably inflicted upon those who, at least initially, refuse to be bullied, by those who long ago abandoned all resistance.

The good little bunnies of the Labour caucus will, of course, object that party politics cannot function without party discipline. They will remind their critics that politics has always been “the art of the possible”, and that nothing will ever get done if a government is mired in endless internal debates.

These objections will be backed-up energetically by the Press Gallery as basic common-sense. How could they not, when the members of the Press Gallery are just as much victims of the “Stockholm Syndrome” as the MPs they cover. Gallery journalists are expected by their editors to hunt as a pack – not on their own. They are also prone to being bullied by the darker variety of ministerial minion, who will threaten them with a denial of access to the key newsmakers if they step too far out of line.

How many of the current crop of Labour MPs and Gallery journalists are aware of the fact that the First Labour Government’s caucus was a hotbed of dissent and disputation, and not above over-ruling the demands of Cabinet Ministers? Strangely, given the dictates of “common sense”, that First Labour Government still managed to keep its promises to the electors – and transform a nation. Which is not to say that the 1930s party was lacking in bullies, merely that, back then, there was no shortage of Labour MPs willing to stand up to them.

Sharma, sadly, is not doing that. He has clearly had enough of Parliament and is more than ready to return to his life as a medical professional. What he has been willing to do, however, is draw aside the curtain, if only for a moment, and let the electors of New Zealand see how their representatives are treated. Those same electors owe him a vote of thanks: not only for the glimpse of the bullying culture that pervades their Parliament, but also for the demonstration that is bound to follow of how that same, sick, system responds to its critics.

Undoubtedly, there will be Labour supporters reading these words with mounting disbelief – and fury. It is fitting, then, to close with a vivid illustration of Labour’s long-standing culture of bullying.

At the Labour Conference of 2002, a tiny handful of mostly younger delegates attempted to protest the Labour-led Government’s decision to sent troops to Afghanistan. As Helen Clark began speaking, one young man rose to his feet and attempted to make his opposition known. As he did so, a number of party heavyweights (fortuitously seated next to him) also rose to their feet. The dissenter was grabbed – none too gently – and physically dragged from the auditorium. Two young women, positioned closer to the stage, who attempted to unfurl an anti-war banner, received very similar treatment.

When Willie Jackson boasts that Labour has a different definition of democracy – he’s not kidding.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 12 August 2022.


AB said...

Sharma's primary misdemeanour is to not understand that his own frustrations with the brutal culture of party politics are trivial and unimportant - compared to the harm that a National/ACT government would unleash on the people who voted for him. His secondary misdemeanour is to be so naive as to express these frustrations to the New Zealand Herald - little more than the media arm of the National Party and a bitter enemy of the left.

Trev1 said...

"Government means Labour ". "The Party comes before the country ". We owe Sharma a debt of gratitude for these Orwellian insights. Good luck to him, he is clearly too honourable to suffer these fools for another term. I expect there will be more revelations as those low down on Labour's list realize they are not going to be re elected. Three years of humiliation for very little indeed.

David George said...


⁃In summary, I stand by my claims that I have been subjected to ongoing
bullying by the Parliamentary Service and the Labour Whips and none of
my concerns have been investigated. Neither has there been an
investigation into any claims against me as per the last written contact
from the Deputy CEO of Parliamentary Service. I didn’t just wake up on
the wrong side of the bed one day and made these serious claims. For
1.5years I have been trying to seek independent investigation, justice
and support from Parliamentary Service, Labour Whips and the PMO. I also
want to clearly state that despite what Duncan Webb says it has always
been my belief that the country should always come ahead of any party.
If I ever have to choose between party and country my allegiance will
always be with the country first.

Archduke Piccolo said...

I think what this article describes is the malaise of party politics. Party politics was anathema to the Founding Fathers of the United States Republic, as it was to political leaders of the United Kingdom following the Great Rebellion and the end of the Cromwellian Commonwealth. Unfortunately, it did not take long for party politics to become cemented in to the political framework of both nations.

At the time the US achieved its separation from the British Imperium, a little old lady once asked Ben Franklin, 'What have you given us?'
'Ma'am,' said the Great Man, 'We have given you the Republic.'
He continued, 'Let's see how long you can keep it!'

In my view, the Republic - and by extension, subsequently, all but the pretence of Democracy - was lost, the moment that political parties became institutions. That is probably why I have never been tempted to join a political party - ANY political party. In this country the Labour Party has a long history of its 'leadership' subverting the grassroots in a manner that sets democracy on its head. That I regard politicians by and large (with a very few exceptions) as worthless, probably hasn't helped. Clearly, Mr Sharma was no politician.

Ion A. Dowman


Quote: "Sharma appears to have entered Parliament without the necessary acculturation to the vicious political environment of the New Zealand Labour Party".

Oh touche Mr Trotter ... and such a facility of phrase.

The Labour Party's historic, endemic, habitual toxicity is always just below the scummy surface.

"Nice"?? ... gimme a break.

John Hurley said...

Goldsmith to Kiri Allen leads to a reversal of positions where National sacked ECan and went Woke with the Iwi Corp

greywarbler said...

Frankly I am amazed at the totally negative things some commenters habitually say, generalising about everything, sweeping poison across the ground of discussion. It shows how hard it is to form a decent polity following reasonable, agreed, moral and life-affirming rules for all.

I liked this comment for its spot-on description of the type leading to my understanding:
...historic, endemic, habitual toxicity is always just below the scummy surface

Anonymous said...

Pure popcorn. Labour's hit job on National has exploded in their faces with spectacular force. Labour have been the nasty party for as long back as I can remember. Brave Dr Sharma, daring to burn his bridges with Labour and to bring their unwholesome bullying culture to light. He also just helped Luxon win the next election with an even bigger majority. OOOOOh it's all so deliciious!!! Ardern will not be doing a celebration dance...


David George said...

To clarify; my earlier comment "conclusion" was from Sharma's Facebook post. You can read the whole thing on FB or copied here:

Chris: "a master-class in the art of dismissing, diminishing and disparaging an individual"

This morning's (Sunday's) Herald seem to have memory holed the whole thing. They seem weirdly obsessed with National however; a couple of new opinion pieces up on the oppositions problems.

David George said...

They had Jacinda on TV "explaining" the Sharma revelations.

Main points; A/ Of course we take bullying seriously (really?) and B/ we're very concerned for his mental health - blame the victim, deflection and gaslighting.

She really is a piece of work but rarely gets called out for her BS.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Similar sorts of comments from Chris though David. Don't tell me there is no bullying in the National party – Muldoon was an expert. Not only a bully but he managed to ruin a couple of people's lives.
Remember these?
"Two members of the party, who are part of the Young Nats, have resigned after allegations of bullying and online harassment of female politicians. Jesse MacKenzie subsequently outed himself as the individual responsible."
"In 2018, the party faced criticism of its culture after it was revealed ex-MP Maggie Barry had been accused of bullying. Last year, claims were addressed at MP Nick Smith for bullying, harassing and swearing at staffers."

Fascinating how you seem to be able to ignore the beam in your eye. :)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Is it just me or are the same people that were saying that 10 years old is a great age for criminal responsibility now saying that good old Sam shouldn't be judged on something he did age 16?"
Found this on the MSN website, where the comments section is a cesspit, but it does sum up the hypocrisy of conservatives. Or at least a certain type of conservative very common there.


Quote CT: "GAURAV SHARMA has clearly had enough of parliamentary life".

WHO'oops ... Err ... apparently not.

Today's Sunday Herald quotes GS/him as saying ... "he (GS) would like to run for the Labour Party!!! ... again in next year's election".

Err ... snowballs or Hobsons?

Brendan McNeill said...

The problem with the political environment described by Dr Sharma is tragic, but not as fundamental as that described by Neil Oliver (The Coast Guy) in this statement on GB News:

Once you have seen it, you cannot unsee it.

David Garrett said...

Excellent piece Mr Trotter...all the more so because you were once "tribal Labour"...Well done Sir.

David Garrett said...

Excellent piece Mr Trotter...all the more so because you were once "tribal Labour"...Well done Sir.

DS said...

Just as it did for most Hamiltonians, Sharma’s victory in Hamilton West would have come as a mighty shock.

Um, no.

Hamilton West is a bellwether. It tends to go Labour or National depending on who wins the party vote nationwide. National won it four times running because it won the nationwide vote four times running.

Everyone expected Labour to win the party vote in 2020, so everyone expected it (or should have expected it) to win Hamilton West. The rather bluer Hamilton East was a tougher nut to crack.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

My God. Neil Oliver has completely lost it. Beyond eccentricity. :) GB news is another cesspit.

Phil Saxby said...

As one who has been a Labour member for most of the past 40 years, I can at least speak from experience unlike some here.
Chris, you have various axes to grind re Afghanistan. There's no doubt in my mind that Dr Sharma has over reacted to the normal and reasonable pressure within a party caucus (whether Labour, Green or otherwise) to be team player. He's going to fail in the role of MP unless he is a fast learner. I hope he uses the time he's been given wisely.

And, well said, Grey Warbler.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Interesting Phil. I was actually wondering if what the good doctor got was similar to Keith Holyoake's advice to new MPs to – what was it – breathe through their mouth?