If you snack with stoats prepare to get bitten

Last updated 18:48 12/09/2008
"We're so squeamish about the links between wealthy people and politics"

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Rosemary McLeod

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I cannot fathom why a billionaire would give half a million dollars to prop up the Labour Party and New Zealand First when he could so easily have given it to me.

OPINION: What's more, it wouldn't take me months to thank him, as an afterthought, and there's no way I'd ever have denied, or forgotten, his generosity. I'd be happy to name a cat after him, even have his name in flashing neon over my front door, if he just got rid of my mortgage. So long as I didn't have to kiss him.

Owen Glenn has found that sucking up to politicians is a tricky business, with your lovely money treated as if it pongs when the wind changes. "Feasting with panthers" is how Oscar Wilde memorably described hopping into bed with rent boys, and politicians are equally tricky bedmates, as generations of typists and secretaries could tell you. It'd be more like snacking with stoats.

We're so squeamish about the links between wealthy people and politics, as if it somehow shouldn't happen, when it manifestly does and always has. It must sit especially awkwardly with Labour politicians, of whom so many are schoolteachers. Teachers feel superior to people in trade, however wealthy they become; indeed their own lowish incomes are traditionally a source of perverse pride. You can't be both virtuous and rich, after all. And anyway, you're an intellectual, which a rich old man can never be, especially if he has a yacht and young blonde female companions.

I'm not claiming that Glenn is virtuous. Who is? But he seems to have been treated shabbily by folks who were only too glad to take his money, and didn't think he was in any way off his rocker when he wrote the cheques. All pretty girls know that you have to be nice to men who buy you dinner, and politicians seem to have batted their eyelashes at him busily enough.

Back in February the prime minister made a point of avoiding Glenn at what should have been one of his finest hours, the opening of the Auckland University business school that bears his name. Yes, there was embarrassment in the background then, too, but it seemed strange of her when he'd stumped up $7.5 million to help get that project off the ground. In most other places he'd be gratefully acknowledged as a benefactor. His was, after all, the largest single private donation of its kind in this country's history, and he followed it up with $500,000 towards a chair in marine science at the university.

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I have read that Glenn is an admirer of attractive women, one of whom formerly had a penchant for sloping about on his luxury yacht with bare breasts, but that knowledge didn't bother the normally puritanical Labour Party when it gave him the New Zealand Order of Merit last year, and I'm sure he wouldn't expect the same from the Labour Party women Heather Simpson, say, or Helen Clark.

At that Auckland function, where he was resplendent in a feather cloak, Clark acted like a woman avoiding a tiresome ex-lover. She refused to hongi anyone, presumably in case she and Glenn ended up breathing the same cash-scented oxygen, and being photographed in the act.

Earlier this year, too, there was the embarrassing business for the government of Glenn revealing he'd rather like the role of New Zealand consul in Monaco, where he lives, or a similar reward, with a diplomatic passport to go with it. So maybe he talks too much, and maybe he's naive. But for the money he's forked out, what harm would it do if Glenn swanned around Monaco wearing his gong, with our sanction? It's not as if he'd get paid. We've sent our share of drongos abroad on national business in the past to reward them for political loyalty, you may be sure, and it's not as if Monaco matters. Or do we sell them lamb chops?

Glenn left the country last week with bitter parting words for his former pals, and you can't blame him. They hung him out to dry, but what else would you expect from politicians? Better to stick to blondes who know the score, and to perhaps drop some small change on Haiti as he wings past. After the pounding it's had from the weather lately it needs help more than we do, and the locals might even be grateful.


- Sunday Star Times

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