Metiria Turei took a political gamble in exposing herself to rightwing, media and bureaucratic scrutiny in advance of a critically important election. It was a naive move because the moment she admitted having lied to WINZ she put herself in the State’s power and risked losing control of the political narrative.
It was obvious those omissions, and anything else that emerged subsequently, would be used against her and would place her party and its political allies in a very difficult position.
The Labour Party’s new leadership quickly decided it had to distance itself from her so as not to jeopardise its honeymoon with the media. Turei resisted calls for her to resign as MP and co-leader and she was not thrown under the bus by her allies and colleagues but instead ‘voluntarily’ gave up her seat on it.
The PLP could have stood beside her; it could have said that what is of far greater importance is that the system is weighted heavily against the poor and that the compassion gap both in the system and in society needs to be closed.
But they listened to the commentariat and the pollsters with their carefully worded questions and the howling of the Amygdala Brigade and Jacinda Ardern pointedly stated that if Turei had not stepped off the bus voluntarily, she would have pushed her off it.
So, Turei is punished and Labour’s new leader has proven she’s tough enough to make it in the macho melee that is national politics.
Labour’s so-called ‘dream team’ has set out its stall with the jaunty catch phrase “let’s do this’ - the provenance of which is less than auspicious given Clinton used it to respond to Trump’s nomination, after which Trump’s campaign took it up and threw it back at her. It's sad that the first act of the ‘let’s do this’ campaign was to step aside while a Mãori woman threw herself off the campaign bus.
Turei is a decent and caring woman who, long before she even became an MP, took a decision to withhold information from WINZ so as not to have her benefit cut and who decided to confess to that in order to highlight an on-going and worsening reality for beneficiaries.
But that’s lost to everyone except those who understand that sometimes you have to balance morality and principle against the letter of the law - especially when that law was written by ideologically motivated politicians and is being applied by ideologically directed bureaucrats.
As to all those little people who Turei wants to help and whose plight she was trying to raise awareness of - they might have to wait as clearly it’s all still about fighting for the hallowed middle ground.