New Zealanders are perhaps among the most unforgiving beings when it comes to politics and political leaders. Possibly because public memory is short, they demand immediate reparation from defaulting leaders- which is often removal from the political landscape.
Helen and John
Some political leaders have survived the worst crises in their careers- Helen Clark and John Key are among the most prominent Prime Ministers who mastered the art of survival.
Both left New Zealand politics- the former after a humiliating defeat of her Party at the polls (although she herself won her seat in Mt Albert with almost 60% of the votes cast) and the latter when he was at the pinnacle of popularity.
Both have re-emerged into public life- she as a world leader, heading a UN organisation and the latter as a corporate leader.
Ms Clark and Mr Key were of course seen as leaders of unimpeachable integrity and hence the otherwise unrelenting public left them alone after initial outburst whenever a scandal or an accusation of transgression surfaced.
Bill and Andrew
Prime Minister Bill English belongs to another school of another time. Many of us knew him as the Leader of the Opposition for a couple of years when Mr Key entered politics. He was at the helm of National when the Party was in its worst form with depleted morale and divisive forces.
But riding the wave of the Party’s popularity, he became Mr Key’s deputy and in charge of the national exchequer. Together, they struck a great partnership and were the chief architects of the Party’s political fortunes.
People rise to their jobs, it is often said, and perhaps that bill fits both Mr English and Labour Party Leader Andrew Little.
Both Mr English and Mr Little have had engagements with their opposite political party. Mr English was an employee of the Treasury when Roger Douglas was the Finance Minister under a Labour Government, while Mr Little, as the son of a devout National Party supporter, used to distribute publicity material to homes and offices.
While Mr English has had a second-chance as the Leader of National – the Party that was unkind 15 years ago, Mr Little has one fact to his credit- he is the only leader to remain unchallenged for almost three years. Other than that, he has had to face uncharitable disposition of the mainstream media.
Leaders like Mr English and Mr Little appreciate the principled approach of small media organisations like Indian Newslink and Radio Tarana.
The Todd Barclay fiasco that left Mr English on the defence and the indiscretion of Matt McCarten that embarrassed Mr Little have had the potential to kill but luckily, both leaders appear to have survived.
Give them a break
Political leaders- Prime Ministers and their Shadows – are constantly placed under the microscope and dissected. While it is important to hold them to account, they should be given leverage, an elbow room to manoeuvre and deliver. They should be treated with a little more empathy and understanding and allowed to function without deviation.
They should however be responsible for their own acts of omission and commission.