Maurice puts the 'h' in wimp

01:24, Dec 18 2009

Is there an 'h' in wimp? There should be.

Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson has wimped - or should that be whimped - out over the Wanganui name debate.

In his most onerous task of the year, Williamson was asked to decide whether or not the Geographic Board's decision to change Wanganui's name to Whanganui should stand.

It was, admittedly, a political hot potato. On the one hand was the vociferous Wanganui Mayor and Radio Live talkback host Michael Laws, who wipped - sorry, whipped - not just his own community but the whole country into something of a frenzy over the whole issue.

It was, Laws opined, a "racist'' and "undemocratic'' decision by the Geographic Board, which had left his town "angry, upset, and disappointed''.

UMR conducted a poll of 750 people nationwide that found 62 per cent wanted the name kept the same.

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Other towns around the country started worrying they, too, would get an "h". Whellington and Auchkland beckoned.

On the other side of the argument sat veteran activist Ken Mair, he of Moutoa Gardens fame, who was reasonably easy for Williamson to ignore, and the Maori Party, which was not.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia made it pretty clear that her party would be "disappointed'' - read bloody angry - if the town's name remained the same.

Wat to do, what to do? Whilliamson - sorry, I'm getting a little carried away - Williamson sat on it for as long as he could. He took advice. He received reports. He hui-ed and iwi-ed and probably hongi-ed. He took some more advice. He thought about it some more.

Then, finally, some three months after the Geographic Board's decision, Williamson decided ... well, he didn't decide. Both were OK, the Minister of Land Information decided. You choose, New Zealand.

Except for government departments and crown agencies, which will have to use the new politically correct spelling, everyone else can spell it how they like. So Transit NZ's official road signs will say Whanganui. But AA signs or town signs can say Wanganui.

Obviously over time the Government is hoping everyone will opt for either one spelling or the other.

This isn't decision-making, it's kicking for touch.

The irony is that Williamson, probably the driest Tory in the National caucus, wouldn't have a bar of Whanganui if it was just up to him. But it wasn't. H isn't a big letter (h is even smaller) but in the context of a town's name change it was writ rather large.

Yet in a way, the decision was apt, since it rather nicely sums up National's year: unable or unwilling to make tough decisions and hard calls. Too harsh? Maybe. But certainly it seems to me the "h" bomb was politics in miniature this year.

Keen to do the right thing, wanting to stay onside with the Maori Party, and willing to do "whatever works'', National has avoided any decision that polarises or provides winners and losers.

Just look at the Maori TV/Rugby World Cup compromise. The smacking compromise. The folic acid in bread compromise. The ETS/forestry deal compromise. If in doubt, kick for touch.

There's nothing wrong with compromise, of course. Often it's essential. But sometimes there just has to be a winner and a loser. Sometimes hard decisions have to be made. That's what we pay them for.

The H debate was surely one of those times.

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