Editorial: Message undermined

If ever we needed proof that politics is all about personality instead of policy, we got it over the past few days.

Speaking at a Women's Refuge forum at which he promised an extra $15 million to refuges and other organisations supporting victims of family violence, Labour leader David Cunliffe was reported as saying that he was "sorry for being a man" ... and the pack went in for the kill.

Cunliffe's intentions were pretty clear.

In - admittedly - a somewhat clumsy way, he was acknowledging this country's appalling record of domestic violence, much of which - irrefutably - is inflicted on women and children by men.

He went on to say that, and called on men to "wake up, stand up, man up and stop this bullshit!".

But sadly, the howls of merriment and mortification drowned out any further comment or clarification.

National has, of course, made the most of the opportunity.

Prime Minister John Key said the comments were "pretty silly" and insulting to New Zealand men. MP Judith Collins tweeted - somewhat oddly - from a boxing event attended by "2500 people, none of the men ashamed to be men".

That took liberties with Cunliffe's original statement; it is a nonsense given it's unlikely Collins had been able to talk to every man at the event; and seems to somehow tap into views about what constitutes a manly sort of man (one who watches boxing, not one who says he's sorry that women are suffering at the hands of men).

And as long as political point scoring is the order of the day, the issue of family violence and the policies and promises from each party will continue to be drowned out by the baying crowds, making any kind of sensible judgment or analysis impossible.

The fact that so much of the debate is now around what Cunliffe said, rather than the issue of violence itself, reflects no credit on the critics.

Their howls of merriment, their scoffing at Cunliffe's words, all serve to undermine the importance of the issue.

The usual defences of "not all men" and "women are abusers too" have been brought quickly into play.

An opportunity has been lost, and society will be the poorer for it.

The Timaru Herald