Mad, bad or bold? Turei’s big gamble
Everybody lies? Seems so. You don’t need a scientific survey to know that trust in politicians telling the truth is at an all-time low.
Yet the Green Party has always held itself apart from all that.
The party acts like it has a natural advantage in a place where the rest of the participants struggle to sell us on their honesty and integrity.
Maybe that’s why Metiria Turei’s admission she lied to maximise her income from the domestic purposes benefit (DPB) is so jarring.
‘‘I was one of those women, who you hear people complain about on talkback radio,’’ she confessed. Turei might as well have added: ‘‘Talkback was right.’’
Because she admits that while she was on the DPB she failed to tell Work and Income about some extra flatmates. It meant she got more than she was entitled to.
In the scheme of things, the ‘‘crime’’ is not huge. Turei claims she did it to feed her child. But that hasn’t made it less polarising.
On the one side there is anger – for every Turei, there are countless more women who managed to feed their children with less. But on the political Left there is near euphoria.
The Green Party’s base has been in a state of torpor for months. Now, Turei has galvanised it. The #Iammetiria hashtag is sweeping Twitter. Leftwing commentator Chris Trotter has even likened the lie to storming the Bastille.
It’s hard to imagine the same rapture greeting the darling of the American Left, Bernie Sanders, admitting something equally shocking, like cheating on his taxes.
Bernie’s halo is bigger than Texas. That was – is – his appeal. There would probably be openmouthed silence.
To be fair, the grassroots of the Green Party have an innate distrust of the system.
So Turei’s confession might be viewed as the politics of ‘‘sticking it to the establishment’’ – even if it doesn’t do other DPB mums any favours, given that it plays up to the stereotypes on talkback.
But at its most basic, Turei’s admission is also an acknowledgement that she’s no better than the rest of them.
She could have used her maiden speech to deliver a powerful message about poverty by revealing her ‘‘crime’’ 15 years ago, but didn’t. She could have used it to fill in the gaps on her ‘‘back story’’ when she was appointed leader – but didn’t.
In fact, she kept quiet about it a lot longer than Bill English stayed shtum over the affairs of his backbench MP, Todd Barclay.
So Turei has already failed the most basic political test – the hypocrisy one.
But that was always going to be the risk. So why now? One word. Politics. The Greens are desperate for a
Turei kept quiet about it a lot longer than Bill English stayed shtum over the affairs of his backbench MP, Todd Barclay.
circuit breaker and a way to tap into the zeitgeist of the United States and British elections.
They’ve entered every election with high hopes of mobilising the youth vote. But they have never spoken to them in the way Sanders, or Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, have.
They tried to reach out to them by ditching the so-called radicalism of the Sue Bradford years – but the new-look Greens, with their glossy magazine covers, glamorous new candidates, and fiscal responsibility rules, have jarred with the base.
The so-called youth quake in Britain, chasing Corbyn’s lurch to the left, is a signpost to the promised land.
Turei’s speech is an attempt to put a stake in the same ground.
But there will be collateral damage.
It’s usually said that nobody ever lost votes by beating up on Australians or beneficiaries. Turei’s speech will be a big turnoff to Labour’s target voter, the mythical ‘‘white van man’’ – the blue collar tradie who’s just getting by.
They were never going to vote for the Greens anyway. But it might drive them from Labour to NZ First.
The damage might be even closer to home for the Greens. A growing number of voters – the much derided urban liberal included – are concerned by the sight of children living in cars or substandard boarding houses.
They worry that some of the more punitive sanctions – like cutting benefits for women who won’t or can’t name their child’s father – only take food out of the mouths of children.
Turei’s speech might have appealed to those voters on one level. But her DP-bludging confession is a huge turnoff to many of them.
It’s also an in-your-face reminder that the Green Party and the hugely powerful Green ‘‘brand’’ are two very different things. Facebook feeds suggest that’s the conclusion many have already reached.
And, in an election that is shaping up as a fight over the haves and have-nots, it probably tips the scales on addressing inequality further than many of them would be comfortable with.