Editorial: Disability Issues Minister Nicky Wagner's Tweet reveals her as tone-deaf
EDITORIAL: Disability Issues Minister Nicky Wagner has been learning the hard way about the perils of the ill-judged tweet, after telling people that she would rather be boating on Auckland Harbour than doing her job.
For most of us, this would not be a controversial suggestion. A day off is obviously to be preferred to the daily grind in the office. And Wagner's tweeted photo suggested it was a lovely day for cruising the Waitemata Harbour last Thursday.
But Wagner's actual words on Twitter were so off-key that it's hard to see how she would not know they would offend: "Busy day with disability meetings in Auckland – rather be out on the harbour!"
The final exclamation mark only served to emphasise the insult to people with disabilities everywhere – the people she is paid to work for in Cabinet.
Busy with Disability meetings in Auckland- rather be out on the harbour! pic.twitter.com/1i9O86hvod— Nicky Wagner MP (@nickywagner) June 15, 2017
The tweet seemed to go largely unnoticed for 48 hours before it was picked up and shared on Saturday, and then roundly condemned in an entirely predictable Twitter storm yesterday.
Some of the ripostes were unprintable. "You are paid a very healthy wage to do an honourable job," one respondent told Wagner. "If you don't want to do it, resign. You won't be missed." There were many other calls for Wagner, who is also the Christchurch Central MP and Christchurch Regeneration Minister, to step aside.
Well sorry for taking up your precious time by having a disability. I'd rather not have to think about it either. Ugh. #changethegovt— Draculaura (@fuzzywuzzie) June 17, 2017
Unwisely, Wagner tried to double-down on her comments yesterday, saying it had been a gorgeous day and "we all would have rather had the meetings out on the harbour". Another bad call. The vision of a jolly boatload of advocates from the Murray Halberg Trust and the New Zealand Artificial Limb Service simply didn't ring true.
Finally, Wagner saw sense and apologised "for any offence I have caused".
I apologise for any offence I have caused to the disability community. That was not my intention.— Nicky Wagner MP (@nickywagner) June 17, 2017
Among other recent tweets, Wagner has been crowing about poorer opinion poll showings for the Labour Party and its leader, Andrew Little. But there are now fewer than 100 days before the general election, and the polls also suggest National will not command a majority.
In this environment, every vote counts and one of the ways National can lose them is by appearing to be arrogant, insensitive or insincere – exactly the words being bandied about yesterday in response to Wagner's tweets and half-hearted apology.
Prime Minister Bill English defended her, saying "no-one would believe that Nicky Wagner set out to be offensive". Strictly speaking, he may be right, but this is a matter of perception. The overwhelming backlash in the hundreds of comments online suggested people thought otherwise.
Social media such as Twitter is important nowadays in setting the political tone, as the embattled US President Donald Trump ought to be learning, but isn't.
Public perception is also crucial. British Prime Minister Theresa May's image took a career-limiting hammering before and after the recent United Kingdom election. Her debate no-shows, aloofness and refusal to meet the victims and bereaved at the site of London's Grenfell Tower fire disaster have put her political future in jeopardy.
Wagner's discomfort may or may not be short-lived, but right now this controversy will be sapping energy away from National's run towards polling day on September 23. Confidence in Wagner's judgment and ability to handle her portfolios has also been called into question.
The Press' editorial on June 19.
- The Press