• A Tale of Two Citizens

    This is a tale of two citizens.  The first, let us call him Citizen A, is a middle-aged pakeha male who has enjoyed a long career in politics and has, even from his younger days, clearly been destined for great things.  That promise was almost fulfilled when he became leader of his party at a relatively young age, but his bid to become Prime Minister at that point ended with a record general election defeat, and he was as a result replaced as leader.

    He recovered from that setback, however, and after patiently waiting for some years, regained the leadership of his party.  His patience was finally rewarded when he became Prime Minister last year, an office he still holds.

    His story is not one, however, that is unblemished.  In 2009, it was revealed that he had improperly claimed a housing allowance of $900 per week in respect of a house in Wellington that was owned by his family trust, and in which his family had lived for some time, while at the same time claiming that his principal residence was in Southland.  He repaid $32,000 that he should not have received.  The revelation did not, however, dissuade his colleagues from electing him a few years later to the party leadership.  The polls show that he continues to enjoy widespread support from the voters.

    The second of the two protagonists of our story – let us call her Citizen B – is a younger Maori woman who has also enjoyed a successful political career.  She was elected as co-leader of her party and has commanded widespread respect for the efforts she has made to draw attention to environmental and social issues that she thinks are important.

    In a perhaps misguided attempt to highlight one such issue – the struggle for those dependent on benefits to provide (especially for families with young children) food on the table – she revealed that she had more than a decade ago (and as a solo mum) lied to the authorities so as to claim a larger benefit (larger by $50 per week) than she was entitled to.

    This revelation created a storm of protest – from the media, from the public, from fellow politicians and even from her own party colleagues, some of whom declared that – as a matter of principle – they could not continue to represent their party while she remained as co-leader.  She eventually felt obliged, as her revelation (and the storm that followed it) seemed to have provoked a sharp fall in her party’s poll ratings, to resign as co-leader of her party.  Her transgression – and her decision to confess to it – may well have put an end to her political career.

    The two protagonists have, in other words, both behaved in a way that is inappropriate for those seeking the trust and support of their fellow citizens.  But one has been made to pay a heavy price; the other has emerged unscathed and continues to enjoy public esteem.

    Citizen A, of course, committed his error while already in a position of responsibility, and earning a good salary; Citizen B, on the other hand, did so when she was yet to seek any public role.  Citizen A apparently enjoyed the financial support of a family trust, while Citizen B was a penniless solo mum.  Citizen A gained, by virtue of his failure to abide by the rules, a useful, substantial (and no doubt enjoyable) addition to his purchasing power; Citizen B gained a much smaller sum which she applied to buying food for her child.

    Citizen B confessed her mistake and was willing, for the sake of those she was trying to help, to endure the opprobrium that she knew would come her way, while Citizen A’s error was disclosed only when official scrutiny revealed a breach of the rules.

    Citizen A continues to enjoy the prestige, esteem, salary and support from colleagues to which a Prime Minister is entitled.  Citizen B has, as the consequence of an unrelenting media campaign and her abandonment by her colleagues, been hounded out of her wish to continue serving the public because she is apparently unfit to seek their support.

    Charles Dickens himself could not have invented a more inventive and bizarre story line.  It is truly a tale of two citizens, and of how differently fate – and we –have treated them.

    Bryan Gould

    10 August 2017




  1. liz howell says: August 10, 2017 at 9:39 amReply

    as a new zealander of only 14 years I don’t know who you are referring to as Citizen A – pls come clean!

    • Bryan Gould says: August 12, 2017 at 7:51 pmReply

      The article makes it clear that Citizen A is our current Prime Minister

      • Rachel Blake says: August 13, 2017 at 3:03 amReply

        Thank you Bryan for summing up my recent thoughts so eloquently.

        • Bryan Gould says: August 13, 2017 at 8:47 amReply

          Thanks Rachel. Kind regards, Bryan

  2. Wilfrid Whattam says: August 11, 2017 at 4:40 amReply

    There was widespread support for Citizen B on the issue you raise. The negativity leading to resignation arose from the admitted electoral fraud. Tragic.

  3. Patrcia Scott says: August 12, 2017 at 6:59 amReply

    @Wilfred Whattam. Yes she admitted the electoral fraud although it was not done to affect the election result.. John Key when prime minister more than once declared his electoral residence to be a house he owned but had never lived in, in another electorate. What was that for,, to influence the election result?

  4. MikeM says: August 13, 2017 at 5:27 pmReply

    Pardon me if I’m cynical about the public’s sudden and selective interest in the integrity of the electoral roll when 1 in 8 eligible people are right now, illegally, deflecting their inconvenient jury service onto other voters. http://www.elections.org.nz/research-statistics/enrolment-statistics-electorate

  5. Emma Brewerton says: September 2, 2017 at 8:17 amReply

    Thank you Bryan for a brilliant summing up of what has been a very ugly time in New Zealand Politics. Metiria has been the subject of young woman/Maori/beneficiary bashing. The media and public got up a blood lust and destroyed her. Your article superbly demonstrates the inconsistency of society’s judgement in favour of the successful white male. I am very sad for Metiria and for my country right now.

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