Party's over for Labour's Hooray Henrys

03:57, Jun 11 2010

What a disaster for Labour. Any faint chance it had of winning the 2011 election has been buried in the rubble of the gluttony, greed, and wanton extravagance of its foolhardy MPs.

The ministerial credit card spending of Labour's former stars makes National's odd indulgences look like paragons of fiscal rectitude.

Even Tim the Groser's bar bill pales into insignificance beside the flagrant disregard for taxpayers' money shown by the likes of Chris Carter, Parekura Horomia, Shane Jones, Mita Ririnui and Judith Tizard.

Much has been made of the indiscretions of Jones, and it's true his spending is by far the most embarrassing.

No one likes being pinged on the front page of their local paper for watching blue movies, let alone 50 of them, at up to three a night.

But while Labour would no doubt like the opportunity to sacrifice the formerly high-flying Jones as the fall guy in all this, that would be both unfair and incorrect.

Sure, an addiction to porn is embarrassing. But at least he repaid the money charged to his ministerial credit card on hotel adult movies.

I know he'll get merry hell from the Wimmin's Division of the party but to be brutally honest there'll be as many blokes in Labour rank-and-file who'd be willing to forgive a bloke for a peek at the ladies in the privacy of his hotel room.

Let's not get too prudish, here, either. We're not talking child porn or bestiality here. The offering in most hotels (not that I've studied it closely, I hasten to add) tends towards the mild rather than the wild - the Playboy variety, which incidentally can be accessed by anyone with a Sky TV subscription.

No, what's far worse in my book - and I reckon for the average voter, too - is the utter disregard for the taxpayer that comes through in these credit card statements.

Flowers for each other, $160 bottles of Bolly, 16 beers during a dinner for two, massages and spa treatments, health clubs, whiskey, cigarettes, helicopter rides, plane charters, fancy luggage, and all the other trappings of the high life.

To call a spade a spade, Labour's MPs were taking the piss. They were taking the taxpayers of New Zealand for a ride.

It's such a pity, too. Because the revelations contained in the thousands of pages of credit card statements released to the media reinforce every stereotype and prejudice the public has always had of MPs: that they were on the pig's back at our expense.

And that's something I've always argued against. Most MPs aren't like that. Most are hard-working, have a conscience, and are careful with public money. But their colleagues have totally stuffed it up for them all.

Take a look at Helen Clark and Phil Goff's spending: A pair of gumboots and a single domestic flight. Or Prime Minister John Key: a bunch of rugby jersys for gifts. They knew how to keep their noses clean. It's a shame their colleagues couldn't follow suit.

The revelations are a gift for National. It's richly ironic that Labour took power in 1999 on the back of a tidal wave of opposition to out-of-control spending by the National-New Zealand First government. So much for higher standards.

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National is also extremely fortunate. John Key had just enough wind of the changes to the rules around disclosure - plus a recession that focused the mind and tightened the belt - to ensure that most of his ministers have not fallen into the same trap.

There but for the grace of God, though. It's not that National's lot is any more disciplined or morally upright. It's just that now they know they'll get caught.

If Phil Goff is looking for a silver lining in any of this it's that most of his potential challengers have been so fatally wounded by the expose that he is as safe as the Bank of England (OK, I know that's not as safe as it used to be, but it's still pretty safe).

But make no mistake about what this has done to the reputation of his former ministerial colleagues, many of whom still occupy positions either on or near the front bench.

Goff must quickly demote Jones, Carter, and Horomia in particular.

It looks as though Waimakariri MP Clayton Cosgrove may escape relatively unscathed, despite relatively high hotel bills, since these are an unavoidable expense of ministerial travel.

But Jim Anderton's use of the spa facilities while on overseas travel could be used against him in the upcoming Christchurch mayoral campaign.

For the taxpayer, sad as the antics of these Hooray Henrys are, at least there's the consolation that it's unlikely to happen again. 

The disinfectant provided by the sunlight now shining into the wallets of our public servants has put paid to that.

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