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Sludge Report #55
Magnanimity Vs Sanctimony
Listening to today’s morning political radio interviews, on the day after Helen Clark offered her truce on house spousal mudslinging, Sludge has been astonished to see how little politicians appear to understand the political value of magnanimity. True it is a big word. But it has a lot going for it all the same. Especially when it is used in the face of sanctimony.
At yesterday’s Post Cabinet press conference a bet was taken that no-one would be able to make the PM laugh. Two dollars found on the floor was to be won by anyone who succeeded in winning a Prime Ministerial snigger.
The PM was expected to use the occasion of her press conference to stand by her man, staunchly. And, if history was any guide she was likely to use offence as her best means of defence.
This was to be no laughing matter. And indeed that was the way the press conference began. Lots of Prime Ministerial harsh words and stern expressions.
But when Trevor Mallard and his remarks of Thursday about Mary English and Rosemary Bradford were brought to her attention, the PM suddenly softened. While she maintained that Creech wouldn’t be big enough to take up the offer, it was probably reasonable to conclude that when she said she was open to the idea of a truce, she was being completely genuine.
“I am happy to serve the peace,” she said. She might have added, “but, just please leave my husband out of things, this is horrible!”.
The softened PM remained so for the remainder of the standup. By the end, when the media moved on to the less personally contentious subjects of Marion Hobbs, Phillida Bunkle, and African timber in the Beehive, the PM was almost cheerful.
“You would have to be truly stupid to interpret the instruction on the use of native timber in the way it was,” she said in a sprightly fashion in response to a question on the English Tawa controversy.
Q: Has the truly stupid person been found?
A: No. We are still trying to find out who it is.
Questioner 1: Isn’t it most likely someone in
Questioner 2: Could it be the same person who decided to pay Marion Hobbs an out of town allowance?
A: (laughs…) Yes. Mr Hunt is on the case.
And so someone won the $2. At least in theory, that is they would have won it if the person who found the stake had not realised it was their coffee change.
Sludge relates this story because it is a classic example of political magnanimity, or generosity, in action.
Speaker Jonathan Hunt is not only a fount of neutrality in this Parliament, he is also a fount of magnanimity. He can be relied upon not to attempt to crucify anyone in Parliamentary Services in relation to this debacle. In handing responsibility to Mr Hunt the PM is also being magnanimous.
That is, if the Cabinet Secretary was sent to find the “truly stupid” person, they would most probably succeed. The Speaker on the other hand will almost certainly find it wasn’t one person, but rather was the result of a series of misunderstandings for which no single person is responsible.
The Speaker is expected to use his license to forgive and be generous about such things. It is his job. In doing so he makes everybody in Parliament feel safer.
And in a world where people are often known to hold grudges for considerable periods of time, the Speaker’s generosity of spirit is a breath of fresh air.
In return the Speaker receives a return on his investment, he is universally liked, seldom challenged and almost always very informed about what is going on.
In the house today there will be multiple opportunities for politicians to explore the arts of magnanimity.
And only if these are explored (and sanctimony is avoided) will the truce, that everyone says they want, but which nobody appears to think possible, be achieved.
People who might attempt a spot of magnanimity or two today include, Wyatt Creech and Trevor Mallard, and the Prime Minister. Opportunities will also exist for Max Bradford, and Jenny Shipley to be generous about past offences.
Which brings me back to the radio interviews of this morning.
It has been quite apparent thus far that as far as the PM is concerned her husband is off limits.
But this morning she changed the game plan a little, Peter Davis himself was on the radio, and he did quite a good job of standing by himself.
That said it would have been far better had the PM been the person doing the talking instead. Her earlier interview, opposite the Leader of the Opposition, was not a particularly good start at serving the peace and a second shot at the apple might have been helpful.
This is because it is the PM who wants the truce, and so it is she that has to be generous about Mr Creech’s criticisms, not Peter Davis.
Further, and perhaps more importantly, it is quite apparent from Michael Cullen’s interview later this morning, and from Trevor Mallard’s defence of the PM in the house last Thursday, that only the PM is authorised to be generous in mercy about this matter.
To her credit the loyalty of Helen Clark’s team appears to be absolute. Everybody else in her cabinet can be relied on defend her honour and privacy with gusto, taking no prisoners.
And so, for the sake of everybodies sanity Sludge is hoping the PM will now authorise Trevor Mallard and Michael Cullen to be nice to the opposition today, so we can enjoy the truce that she has so kindly offered.