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Jack Tame: Labour MP accusing the party-of-kindness of bullying is a remarkable turn

Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 13 Aug 2022, 10:22am

Jack Tame: Labour MP accusing the party-of-kindness of bullying is a remarkable turn

Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 13 Aug 2022, 10:22am

Don’t make me say it. Don’t make me say it.

A week is a long time in...

I’ll start with Gaurav Sharma. I don’t think we know enough about what has been alleged to have certainty as who is the bully and who is being bullied, but I’m stunned this dispute has been allowed to fester to the point Sharma decided to speak out. Seeing a sitting Labour MP accuse the party-of-kindness of bullying is a remarkable turn.

I was not surprised to read Gaurav Sharma’s lengthy post on Facebook, last night. Even as the Prime Minister was addressing the issue, unnamed ‘Labour sources’ were commenting to media and slagging him off. Such kindness! And despite the compassionate veneer, the Prime Minister’s statement still carefully insinuated that everything Sharma was complaining about is actually his fault. Maybe it is! We don’t know. And maybe she felt she simply had to defend her party. But I think a public comment that was truly dedicated to Sharma’s wellbeing would not have included this line:

"Starting out as a new MP can be challenging and one of the toughest parts is navigating the new environment but also the role you must play as an MP managing others.”

See what I mean? Those words subtly insinuated that Sharma is the problem and that he’s ill-equipped to be an MP. From his perspective, it was a provocative thing to say. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I wasn’t at all surprised to see him react.

Almost everything that can be said of the Sam Uffindell scandal has already been said. Obviously he was a lout and a bully as a teenager. He traumatised people. He benefitted from the comforts, trappings, and multiple opportunities afforded by money and privilege. Nonetheless, I don’t think the best response is to mercilessly destroy his entire life.

Christopher Luxon’s handled it pretty well. We’ll wait and see what the investigation from Maria Dew Q.C turns up. But for all the attention on what Uffindell did and didn’t do, who in the party knew what and when they knew it, for how long someone deserves to be punished for their past mistakes, and whether his apology was cynical or genuine, I do think there is once central question in this whole fiasco that should be top of the list:

Why was Sam Uffindell selected in the first place?

It’s no secret that Tauranga is a safe National seat. Theoretically, National could have put up a slab of butter in a trenchcoat and comfortably won the by-election. Jacinda Ardern didn’t even bother turning up to campaign for Labour’s candidate. National didn’t need a talented campaigner. They could have picked anyone. They chose Sam Uffindell.

Uffindell disclosed to them that he’d been expelled from high school and the reason why. It was inevitable his history would hit the news at some point. The panel knew that recent candidate selections had ended in disaster and there would be a especially keen focus on their choice for Tauranga. And yet, they still chose Sam Uffindell.

When the news broke, I immediately pictured that photo of National’s four Tauranga candidates, standing on the beach and grinning like a centre-right barbershop quartet. Why didn’t National’s selection panel just pick one of the other Sam Uffindells? Maybe bullying, assault, and an explusion is worthy of forgiveness. But why would the panel take the risk?

What was it about Uffindell that was so special and so unique, that the upside of having him in caucus this term was greater than the downside of a potential scandal?

Given National’s long list of badly-behaved men, and given their policy positions on law and order and personal responsibility, I can’t understand why the panel would pick any candidate that wasn’t 100% sqeaky clean.

The selection panel let down the party leaders. They let down the National caucus. You can argue they let down the victims of his bullying by putting them in a position where they felt compelled to speak out and re-live their experiences, and actually they let down Sam Uffindell himself. Regardless of whether he lasts – and I expect he will choose not to stand in next year’s election – this will have been a hideous week for him, his family, and the people he bullied.

And for what? National’s new party President says the selection process requires confidentiality but that the process could clearly be improved.

You don’t say. But Uffindell’s scandal wasn’t just messy. It was unnecessary.

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