Friday 20 September 2019

Protect The King!

To Protect and Serve: When the Prime Minister finds herself enmeshed in the coils of a full-blown political scandal, her colleagues and party comrades have only one priority: to release her as swiftly – and with as little lasting injury – as possible. Is this what Jacinda Ardern’s colleagues and comrades did? Over the course of the past eleven days, has the only cry rising from Labour’s ranks been: “Protect the King!” Or have the other pieces on the board been more concerned with finding excuses for their failure to do so?

“IN POLITICS, as in chess,” writes Richard Harman, “the ultimate objective must be to protect the King.” If only because the game of chess is, itself, a symbolic representation of politics, the veteran political journalist is unlikely to be mistaken.

Placed in its context, Harman’s dictum also rings true. When the Prime Minister finds herself enmeshed in the coils of a full-blown political scandal, her colleagues and party comrades have only one priority: to release her as swiftly – and with as little lasting injury – as they possibly can.

Is this what Jacinda Ardern’s colleagues and comrades did? Over the course of the past eleven days, has the only cry rising from Labour’s ranks been: “Protect the King!” Or have the other pieces on the board been more concerned with finding excuses for their failure to do so?

How much damage would the Prime Minister and the Coalition Government have avoided if, on the same day as The Spinoff article detailing an alleged sexual assault on one Labour member by another was posted, the Party President had assumed responsibility for an unsatisfactory in-house investigation and resigned?

And if, on that same day, the young man at the centre of multiple allegations of misconduct had relinquished his job in the Leader’s Office? Wouldn’t that have limited the damage still further?

The answer is, of course: “Yes, it would have lessened the damage considerably.” By delaying their departure from the board for so long, these two pieces allowed the King to be unnecessarily placed in check. Bishops and Knights should be made of sterner stuff.

Surely, however, “Protecting the King” means more than simply protecting a single individual – no matter how elevated her rank? Surely, when it’s a political party – a government – under discussion, then “Protecting the King” must be assigned a larger and much more enduring meaning? Viewed more broadly, shouldn’t the injunction “Protect the King” be understood to mean “protect that which is of absolute value”?

In the case of a Labour Party; in the case of a Labour Prime Minister; that can only be “Justice”. Justice for the complainant. Justice for the respondent. Justice unsullied by the pawing fingers of ambition. Justice untrammeled by fear. Justice, pure and simple.

Justice is the only King that must be protected at all costs.

That Labour; that a Labour Prime Minister; have proved unequal to the task of turning New Zealand’s justice system into a place where a young woman can be absolutely confident of being heard, supported and protected. A place where the search for evidence of her allegations is conducted by a police force with maximum rigor and minimum prejudice. A place where courtrooms are not turned into torture chambers for revictimizing and retraumatising rape victims all over again. A place where the rights of the accused are not transformed into weapons of reputational annihilation. That is the true scandal.

If, in February 2018, the young woman to whom The Spinoff has given the pseudonym “Sarah” had been living in a country whose justice system was characterised by all the above virtues, then she would not have hesitated to take her allegations of sexual assault to the nearest police station. If she, and thousands of women like her, felt no qualms about seeking and receiving justice from the courts, then institutions ill-designed for such a purpose – like small businesses and big corporations, government departments and political parties - would have no need to devise their own systems for delivering justice internally.

Had that confidence been there, then the young woman and the young man at the centre of this scandal would have been in the hands of professionals. Instead of being placed in the none-too-trustworthy care of politicians and journalists, their identities would have been protected by law. The determination of guilt or innocence would not have been the work of a score of hard-bitten political activists, but the verdict of a jury of twelve impartial citizens.

Seeing the dismay etched upon the features of the Prime Minister over the course of this past week is all the evidence I needed to acquit her entirely of blame for this scandal. Jacinda Ardern’s all-too-obvious consciousness of having failed not only the complainants, but, more broadly, all the women of New Zealand, is what I would expect of their “King” – and worth protecting.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 September 2019.


alwyn said...

"Seeing the dismay etched upon the features of the Prime Minister over the course of this past week is all the evidence I needed to acquit her entirely of blame for this scandal"

I am old enough to remember the Watergate scandal clearly. In particular I remember when Nixon announced that Kliendienst, Haldeman and Ehrlichman were resigning and that he had fired Dean. He looked at least as distressed as did our Prime Minister.
That did not convince me that he had nothing to be responsible for. Neither does our PMs long delayed acceptance of what what was going on in her offices of both that of the PM and of the Leader of the Labour Party.
She has simply spent far to long in denial of what was already clear to many outside her inner circle.
Sorry but I think her reaction was too little and too late.

Don Franks said...

Well observed Chris, right up until the last rose tinted paragraph. As the old saying goes, the dog is not barking for the village, it's barking for itself.

David Stone said...

The problem with going to the police is that they and the courts can no more ascertain the truth of a disputed sexual encounter than you or I can. It is a shame that a system does not exist that obviates the need for small businesses or large corporations to deliver justice but it doesn't. The impartial jury is no better off than us in their ability to confidently determine the truth about an encounter that is one party's allegation that the other party either denies outright or claims that it was a consensual encounter. There are never any witnesses and after a few hours no evidence. As a result it is to be imagined that most impartial juries would acquit even while strongly suspecting guilt for lack of enough confidence in their own judgement of character which is what any such trial must eventually come down to.
So the decision to live with the wrong and move on with life is rational. Especially when the person you are accusing has a profile in society that the complainant doesn't have.
I completely agree your assessment that Jacinda was kept completely in the dark. You can just see it. But it s d shows how her party views her as a mascot. Not as a real leader but as a figurehead to draw the attention of the voters while they get on with the real job of government.
A the moment the labour party does not look as if they deserve her.

peteswriteplace said...

A logical decision.

Anonymous said...

With respect - no. St Jacinda's expressions are only dismay at getting caught.

Redbaiter said...

"Seeing the dismay etched upon the features of the Prime Minister"

Surprised to read this comment from someone regarded as a seasoned political commentator, and who should therefore be aware of the old adage "once a politician learns to fake sincerity, they've got it made".

It seems to me that every nuance of Jacinda Ardern's delivery is coached and practised to an infinite degree, and therefore she doesn't impress as being the least sincere.

My reading of this is that right from the get go, months ago, everyone concerned knew this was a serious issue including the PM. However those responsible assured her they could contain it, and unwisely, she trusted this assurance.

The complainant is a dedicated Labour believer, and the party thought they could convince her to keep it within the party, but when she saw that there wasn't going to be any action taken against the alleged offender, her outrage outweighed her loyalty and she went in desperation to Paula Bennett.

After that, its all been damage control, with the PM's actions and words more or less predetermined by her original flawed decision to trust the party to keep the true nature of the complaints under wraps. The only real option they all have now is to try and tough it out.

You've got to admit its a scenario that fits the facts. Grant Robertson's behaviour is the sealer for me.

another man said...

I was with you Chris until the end.
The problem you and all the sycopants have is " She Jacinda has tried to divotce herself from "The Labour Party" which failed these 12 Volunteers.
Javida Adhern is the Labour Leader, she is your Mantlepiece, She is the Labour Prime Minister and Governments Prime Person.
That she has loudly laid down the baseline for ALL, "The most transparent Government ever" undoes All that you have said, because of your last Paragraph.
I'm sorry Chris I got excited that some one had let an adult into the room.
As a Man, Husband, Father, I have thought ruminated upon and rehashed all the what ifs.
Robbo knew, Jacinda knew, as did the whole front row.
I didn't know until a phoned a friend who is one of you, she said his name and in her mind who she knew and why.
Why did she do that? I am an outsider, She is disgusted by you the glitteratio of the Labour movement....
She knows my wife, indeed looks up to her personally and professionally. I am blessed by my connection.
The Press gallery knew, the Meetoo media knew, and so did the Labour front row.
That was at 6 complainants not the 12 we have now.
I wish I could prove this, because it would be over all the internet.
Because I an a Man, Husband and Father and if any of the 12 complainants, but especially Sarah was mine, I would be in jail right now and you would be one man down. If it happens still and I'm on the jury, Don't expect a conviction.
A greater wordsmith than both of us said, "In War, The truth is so precious it must at all times be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies".
In war Chris, in war. Now is not war, but the truth must out and the chips must fall where they may, both for the comainants, the labour woman I spoke with and NZ Society per se. and as an example to anyone in the future, Come in no1 your time is up....

Anonymous said...

Guilty until proven otherwise.

sumsuch said...

Brilliant vivisection of this politic-ation -- don't know what you call these things.

Like Trump with his incidents, I just don't think it matters.

This is about as worthwhile as a comment on Israel. Easy, but not about 'our' difficult things.

This is 1939 but 100 times.

rouppe said...

Even here, even you who see it Chris, the reference to the victims in all this is merely in passing.

From a backdrop of "most open and transparent government ever", to "#MeToo must become #WeToo", when it came down to making a decision about whether to do the right thing or the wrong thing, everyone in Labour chose the wrong thing.

In all that has happened to date, there is no justice for the complainants. Nigel Haworth has merely walked away flipping the bird at not only the complainants, but the whole of NZ watching this sorry tale. The actual offender gets to slip silently away with zero accountability, actually getting paid a bonus to remain anonymous. After a winter holiday somewhere, he will no doubt silently slip into another role in the apparatus. The election is coming up, after all.

The main problem is that the complainants actually still believe in Jacinda Adern the figurehead. They actually believe that she will - more would now - protect them, and be all those things they believed in. Bright. Shining. Defender of Inclusivity and Diversity. The Perfect Progressive. Even now, as they are being led towards the macerator of politics, they still can't quite believe it is actually happening.

That the entire Labour family, all you stalwarts of the cause, believers in unity to protect the powerless from the powerful, are doing absolutely nothing to live up to those values and stand up for those complainants is quite sad.

Where are the marchers that descended on Russell McVeigh?. Where are the protesters that block business to protest the treatment of caged chickens? Is the abuse of these women and the subsequent treatment of them not as worthy?

Astonishingly, that appears to be the case.

greywarbler said...

I was very confused at the apparently sloppy way that the Labour worthies handled this matter of sexual harassment. And it got to the point where the actual sexual interference that occurred had to be spelled out so we knew that it was not some over-blown matter like a kiss on the cheek. It wasn't a hand on the breast, which when it is over clothes, is sexual touching, and not to be excused, but could be dealt with in-house and promptly with an apology, written and verbal, and sacking. But it was an invasion of the person without respect for the individual.

The idea that the female volunteers are there for 'candy', to be fondled at will for a bit of excitement and gossip, will be a dread killer of devoted generosity from the grassroots. The Party is at fault in its lack of respect for its helpers. Or are they no longer important? Are the mandarins so sure of good money backers that the 'little people' are just useful for a false front, while the real machinations are out of sight.

Cynical behaviour from the old Labour guys (apparently DOM or tending so) will lead to cynical attitudes from both activists and the voting public. Time to put winklepickers on, olders will remember those narrow shoes with extended toes, right good for giving a good kicking to fatheads and backsides. We can do with an Extinction Rebellion in Labour ranks till they fall like dead leaves in winter.