• Political Ambition Knows No Bounds

    Politics is a funny business, sometimes producing unintended consequences, sometimes revealing human weaknesses that would be better remaining hidden.

    A case in point was the unresolved dispute about the leadership of the Maori party. Few could have imagined that the issue could have produced such a bewildering outcome.

    The Maori party, like the Greens, had adopted a dual leadership – one assumes as a neat way of avoiding the need to decide between the two candidates who might otherwise have been at each other’s throats. But, as luck and events would have it, the fact that the two leaders were of different genders – and that matter had been decided as a biological (rather than political) fact at a somewhat earlier date – became translated into a “principle” that the dual leadership should comprise one of each sex.

    This happy arrangement was disturbed, however, when Tariana Turia – the distaff half of the duo – announced that she would stand down. One possibility immediately presented itself; the other half of the duo, Pita Sharples, might also resign (as he had earlier indicated he would) and bring the dual leadership arrangement to an end, so providing the opportunity for Te Ururoa Flavell to become leader (as the only remaining Maori party MP) in his own right. Te Ururoa Flavell, it will be noted, is a man.

    This simple solution was however stymied by Pita Sharples digging in his toes. He announced that he would stay on, and would oppose any leadership bid by Te Ururoa Flavell. Battle (albeit discreetly) was joined.

    When it became clear that Flavell was likely to win in any ballot of the membership (which could have been conducted with ease and despatch, since there were by now only 17 members left), what was Pita Sharples to do? Being a Minister mattered enormously to him. He enjoyed the prestige and the perks and was quite understandably unwilling to give them up. He enjoyed the flattery applied liberally to him by the Prime Minister and was able to convince himself (if no one else) that his use of a Ministerial car was essential if Maori interests were to be properly defended.

    His problem was that if he was forced to relinquish the leadership of the party, his successor would also have an undeniable claim to take over the Ministerial limousine. The thought of Te Ururoa Flavell stepping into the back seat and instructing the chauffeur as to where to take him was too much to bear.

    So Pita Sharples hit upon a brilliant idea. He would remind the party that it had always had two leaders – and that, even if Te Ururoa Flavell took over one of the spots, there would still be one left to accommodate one P. Sharples. But the sharp-eyed reader will already have identified the flaw in the argument; if it was required that the party should have two leaders, it could equally well be argued that it was also necessary that the two leaders should be of different genders.

    What was to be done? It was undeniable that Te Ururoa Flavell was a man, leading inexorably to the conclusion that the other leader would have to be a woman. And this, according to most observers at any rate, constituted something of a dilemma for P. (as he had taken to calling himself) Sharples.

    Throughout the fateful night, he wrestled with the dilemma. He reminded himself that Henri IV had once asked, “Is Paris worth a mass?” Was a Ministerial post worth a similarly fundamental sacrifice of something he held dear?

    As morning dawned, he had made up his mind. There was, in the end, no real choice. He disappeared from public life for a few weeks – and the rest, as they say, is history. Patricia Sharples was elected with acclaim as the other leader of the Maori Party – and the Ministerial car was safe.

    Bryan Gould.

    25 January 2013

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