I received some very good advice at a seminar a couple of years ago.
A seasoned political campaigner who had overseen dozens of campaigns across Australia, the USA and New Zealand, asked us all what we thought the most important quality in politics to be.
Many ideas were offered: intelligence, skilled oratory, charm and warmth, perseverance… and so the list of suggestions went on.
‘No,’ answered the convenor. As valuable as all of the above traits maybe, we were rightly told that they all count for nothing if a leader (in politics or any other field) does not earn and convey a sense of trust.
It makes sense; after all, if you do not have confidence that someone is being truthful, or that they can be relied upon to deliver upon their commitments, then what does it matter what they say?
Disagreement is respectful
Trust also matters a lot when you think about the fact that none of us will always agree with leaders and politicians, even those that we like and admire.
It is the same with our friends – we might have disagreements with them about certain issues, but if we trust that they are fundamentally decent and honest people with good values, then we will see our way through one-off disagreements and continue to support them.
The Barclay debacle
It is on the subject of trust that I wish to address the ongoing fallout from the Todd Barclay scandal that has dominated the news media over the past couple of weeks.
The facts of the Barclay scandal are relatively well established and I will not rake over the details here. Suffice to say that Todd Barclay’s conduct towards his staff member was in my view very poor, and he is now paying a steep price, with his political career terminated after just one term.
There is an old maxim in politics: “It is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble,” and once again it has been proven correct.
The cause of the current calamity engulfing not only Mr Barclay, but also (Prime Minister Bill) English, has been the repeated attempts at misdirection that have occurred over the past year.
The New Zealand public are reasonable and forgiving.
Editor’s Note: This run contra to our observation in our Leader’s Column under Viewlink.
Generally speaking, when public figures make mistakes and own up to them, the public will give another chance. Most people simply want us to focus on providing good leadership for the country.
As such, Mr English’s current problems are not so much Mr Barclay’s original unwise conduct towards his staff, but the way in which the story has changed over time.
Was there a recording or not? Did Mr English know about it or not? Was there a payment of hush money from the National Leader’s budget to the former staff member?
The different answers that the public are hearing give people no confidence that they are getting the full story. If we are told one story one day, and something different the next day, people begin to lose trust.
I am a new MP and every day I am constantly reminded of the privilege of serving in this role. At any one time, only 120 of us are elected to sit in the House of Representatives.
The people put us into our roles because they trust us to represent their interests, to provide help when needed, and to make laws for the good of our country.
Parliament is a strange bubble and I can say how sometimes people get caught up in the political games and forget about why we are really there.
Each of us has a duty to keep ourselves as grounded as possible, to focus on public service, and to treat the people around us with respect.
No one in politics, myself included, is perfect – but public faith in our democratic system relies upon leaders acting with a basic level of integrity.
When people lose sight of that, they lose trust. Mr Barclay lost that trust, and Mr English has very serious questions to answer.
Michael Wood is elected Member of Parliament from Mt Roskill and Labour Party’s Spokesman for Ethnic Communities, Consumer Affairs and Revenue.