MPs' barbs all in good taste

19:10, Dec 07 2012
Beck Eleven

Lately I have had cause to be thinking about chivalry and manners.

It strikes me that while the basic pleases and thank-yous remain, we have fallen far from the etiquette of yore.

If heat-of-the-moment responses say more about a person than carefully considered opinion, then our politicians are doing a fantastic job of proving equality. Take away the suits and ruffle those well-coiffed hairstyles and they're just as feral as the rest of us.

Perhaps down here in Christchurch we're used to certain politicians leaving their words unminced but more recently it's become apparent the House is a breeding ground for ill-mannered entertainment.

The shine of John Tamihere's reinstatement to Labour was quickly removed when he told a TV reporter to "go jump in the lake", calling her a "stupid" and "pimply little girl".

To be fair, she had asked him if he was fattist, misogynist or a homophobe. Although the question hardly came out of nowhere, let's remember that when he last breathed air as a politician, he was caught on tape calling people "smarmy", "queers" and "tossers" while referring to women as "front-bums".


In his latest outburst, Tamihere also referred to Social Development Minister Paula Bennett as "that bloody fat girl".

Perhaps it upset Bennett, because this week she told her Labour counterpart Jacinda Ardern to shut her cake hole with the inspired "zip it, sweetie".

But should we really admonish our leaders for so many slips of their silver tongues? Ought not they be praised for levelling the societal field? In a way, they should be thanked for showing the rest of us that position does not mean politeness and that a difference of opinion can be responded to with sarcasm and personal insults.

You'd have to be thick as batshit to think they're better than any of us.

Perhaps you long for the golden era of manners?

When considering decorum and good grace, I like to refer to the ultimate book of rules, a Victorian era publication called Enquire Within Upon Everything. It's a book filled with the right things to do for every occasion.

I expected to find our politicians wanting, but it appears all this name-calling and emotional bulldozery is the height of manners.

For instance, under etiquette, the book tells us to be "not over- timid at the outset".

Who among us could accuse Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee of being over- timid?

No, no. He sees an old dunger, he calls it an old dunger. He sees whinging and carping, he calls it whinging and carping.

Further in the book, it tells us: "Let the manners arise from the mind, and let there be no disguise for the genuine emotions of the heart."

Tamihere sees a woman, his heart and mind tells him she's actually a front-bum, he calls her a front-bum. He does not disguise his feelings. If there be pimples, let him say there are pimples.

The book urges people not to consult written manners because it makes you "act with mechanical restraint". Instead, one should use an intuitive perception of what is graceful and polite.

Surely there are none carrying themselves with more grace and politeness than those in the debating chamber?

The book also has tips on speaking and words. "Soft words soften the soul," it says and implores people to maintain a prudent silence where they cannot concur.

So please don't ask Bennett to stop asking sweeties to zip their mouths. She was merely showing a fellow politician how to mind her manners.

The Press