Political life is both good and bad for MPs' children
OPINION: MPs' families – partners and children - under some unwritten code, used to be off limits to the media. They didn't stand for Parliament; they had a right to be left alone. It may seem quaint, but even if a Prime Minister was suspected of committing adultery the family was not to be dragged into the headlines (I'm talking pre-David Lange).
Eventually that line was crossed if it involved hypocrisy. 'Family values' politicians caught having affairs deserved exposing because their cheating was relevant. But some stories, eg that the former husband of a liberal woman MP had become a woman, was of no interest to the public.
I was perhaps more sensitive when my former colleagues suffered. As an MP who returned to journalism, and who endured a bit of flak in the House, I knew how it felt to be pursued through Wellington airport by Guyon Espiner and a camera crew. I also know that nobody in the real world cares and after a week – if you're lucky – the media find someone else to torture.
So many would feel sympathy for Metiria Turei this week when she complained of feeling like the subject of a "witch hunt", and objected to the "intrusion into her family's personal life as a little out of control". She said having them paraded in the media "has been really tough" and they didn't deserve it.
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Political life is both good and bad for MPs' children. They benefit from great salaries, perks, and meeting terrific people. But when political careers go bad, the children suffer terribly and Turei is correct, her family doesn't deserve this pain.
But the media didn't start this; Turei did. She stood up and used her child, her former partner, and her mother, as a vehicle for her narrative when she said she lied to claim more welfare and to "debate poverty".
From that point on the public had every right to ask questions (via media) about other authorities Turei may have lied to, what else might be exposed in future, and be given the entire story not selected tidbits Turei has chosen to offer.
Turei chose to bring her family into the public arena on election time and it backfired. Right now she's probably wishing it would all go away. She can blame the media and her opponents but they have every right to seek more information.
- Deborah Coddington is a journalist and former ACT MP.