The decline and fall of Paula Bennett by Susan Grimsdell

One of the wonderful strengths of our political system is the peaceful transfer of power.  We don’t get rid of a leader by killing him or her.  Instead, the defeated candidate steps down, following long-established protocols, and often expresses respect and praise for the new person.

The Beehive, home of NZ’s parliament

Democracy rules

There are no guns or armed insurgents ready to assassinate the outgoing politician.  It’s unthinkable to even imagine such a thing. The procedure is based on respect for democracy and is carried out with courtesy.  While watching it happen, we all get confirmation that we live in a civilised country where those at the top respect conventions we understand and accept.

Perhaps my years of taking for granted that leaders will always show respect for one another and for the system that underlies our democracy, explains the reason I was so appalled by Paula Bennett’s behaviour this past week.

New leaders for National

Paula Bennett, ex deputy leader of the National Party

The opposition National Party changed its leaders recently.  The change of power followed established procedures and a new leader and deputy leader were announced.  But then came a jarring, repulsive video of the deposed deputy leader, Paula Bennett, dancing around with a local comedian, both dressed the same, celebrating Paula’s departure from the Party, shouting out “F*** the Nats.”

Said “Nats” is the very same party who had nurtured and supported her over a period of years, as she transmogrified from a newbie MP to Deputy Prime Minister.  This is the woman who got every help the government of the day offered when she was a 17-year-old school drop-out with a baby.  But, like many who have succeeded thanks to the help of others, when she found herself in a position of power over beneficiaries, she hit down hard, introducing punitive, insulting, cruel policies.  Her attitude to beneficiaries was that they were greedy and grasping, and she intended to get tough and crack down on them.  And so she did.  I wonder if she ever reflected upon how lucky she was that the minister at the time of her need adopted the opposite attitude.

Todd Muller, newly elected leader of the National Party with Nikki Kaye, new deputy leader in the background

Courtesy bypass

It was revealed the day after the public release of the video, that it was via that video that the new leader of the opposition had first learned of Paula’s resignation.  She had not had the courtesy to inform him in a dignified, decent, polite way, that she was giving up her parliamentary seat.

What distressed me about this incident is that Paula, whether I or others like it or not, is a role model.  She has been in a position of power for a long time – since 2005.   Her contempt for her party and its new leader, as revealed in her dancing and swearing, was clear to everyone in the country, including young people.  What could they have thought of this?

I can’t help but contrast it with the awe-inspiring leadership shown by our Prime Minister since she has been in the position.  Now that’s a role model I fervently hope all our citizens, young and old, will be inspired by.

I can only be grateful that Paula’s despicable behaviour was her last public act and that with luck she won’t be around in a position of influence ever again.

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