OPINION: Said it before and we'll say it again. Eric Roy really didn't have the roar material to be a big noise in Parliament.
Neither thunderous oratory nor mocking interjection have been his forte. Such predatory instincts as the Invercargill MP possesses tend to be those of the hunter outdoorsman. Indoors, he has proven too much the gentle giant to find a place among those natural-born House politicians red in tooth and claw.
Yet Mr Roy, who has announced he will not seek re- election, has been an honourable figure for reasons that run deeper than his widely acknowledged likeability.
He is respected for his significant contributions to the less combative, more collegial duties evoked by the lesser-known parliamentary dictum: "It isn't dirty work . . . but someone has to do it."
Former Labour prime minister and constitutional expert Sir Geoffrey Palmer once praised Mr Roy's chairmanship of the select committee handling potentially contentious fisheries legislation as an example of the way consensus politics could work.
The TransTasman website has had him pegged as an "affable bloke" who carried out his Deputy Speaker role with "care, competence and diligence" not only acting with "grace and dignity" in the face of some MPs' combative excesses (looking straight at you, Trevor Mallard) but also often irritating his National colleagues by the extent to which he bent over backwards to be fair to other parties.
All of which was a splendid way to avoid profile-boosting headlines. Similarly, in his two decades as a southern MP, Mr Roy has been more a background worker than a noisemaker on behalf of his constituents.
When assailed by critics he was slow to anger. He could eventually get there, but even then he didn't have the temperament to vent by way of particularly theatrical political tantrums.
More substantively, he has been consistently conservative on social issues - he opposed gay marriage - and although his outdoorsy nature made him a natural fit for his party's BlueGreen movement, his folksy take on climate change was that it was "like a nudist club where every nation was a member but New Zealand was the only country taking its clothes off".
And his religious convictions run deep. Diagnosed with cancer in 1997, and facing a dire prognosis, he drew for neither the first nor last time on his faith. Prevailing over the disease, he then spoke extensively on the message of hope that he was able to draw and pass on from the experience. At such times he was at pains to explain that this was distinct from any campaign-trail ambitions. Most people had not the slightest trouble accepting that.
It's an interesting question whether it is as socially conservative as it was 20 years ago, and how much weight this carries with voters, in any case, compared with overt economic and bureaucratic issues.
Mr Roy's departure will perhaps prove an opportunity to test that at the election.
Had he been something other than the diligent, adept heartland hardworker that he appeared to be he would have been found out long ago.
That hasn't happened. He's lived up to the values he cites, in a career that tends to test them brutally.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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