Blame Jonathan “Treasure” Hunt for Carter’s Woes
Former NZ government ministers, even the disgraced ones, are not known for writing best-sellers. Richard Prebble shifted a few copies of I’ve Been Thinking some years back, but it wasn’t really a memoir in the traditional sense; it was more of a well-aimed polemic capitalising on the knowledge that the Ayn Rand set may be small in number but they buy a lot of books. (This is because only bound, self-contained volumes lend credence to ideas unable to withstand even the faintest waft of reality).
Michael Bassett has sold a book or two, and so has Geoffrey Palmer, but the former’s day job is historian and author and the latter is an overbearing windbag with claims to all kinds of specialist expertise (he was also, briefly, albeit not briefly enough, PM).
But these are the exceptions that prove the rule: discarded NZ politicians have all the book-selling prowess of provincial cricketers who make a handful of performances for the the national side thanks to a combination of poor selection and serendipitous injuries to more talented players. You know who I’m talking about, Chris Kuggeleijn.
Disgraced Labour MP, Chris Carter, is apparently threatening to write a tell-all book that he hopes will buck this trend. I can see why Carter would like to write such a book — it is 300 uninterrupted pages where he gets to defend himself while badmouthing his enemies — but I defy you to find a single living human being who could summon the energy to read a single page of it. I suspect even an autistic savant who could theoretically read such a book in under three minutes would rather spend the time watching ads between Two and Half Men re-runs.
When I knew Chris, we got along quite well on a personal level. It was always problematic for him to be seen with me because of my outsized reputation in the mid-late nineties (and again these days, I am told) as possessing in Labour circles something akin to the mark of Satan. While I liked him personally, there is no point denying that Chris is an intellectual light-weight and a craven opportunist — but he is far from Robinson Crusoe in this respect. The same criticism could be leveled without fear of contradiction at all but a very small handful of his colleagues in every corner of the Parliamentary chamber.
I have been flummoxed by Carter’s conduct of late because he never seemed especially venal or unstable, at least not in my presence. How could this happen? What or who is to blame?
To resolve this mild bout of cognitive dissonance, I have concluded that Chris Carter is the product of a bad environment and thus we can chalk this case up for Nurture in its never-ending tug-of-war with Nature. There is nothing inherently defective about Carter as a person. However, events in his formative years as an MP set him on this destructive course. Let me explain.
Chris Carter arrived as MP for Te Atatu at the height (or in the depths) of the ethical reign of Jonathan Hunt, former Labour Minister, whip and speaker. Since the seventies, Hunt had been the unrivalled godfather of NZ Labour parliamentary standards and numero uno at the porcine trough. It is under Hunt’s watchful eye that fresh Parliamentary recruits like Carter were inducted into a culture of entitlement maximisation and ethical boundary-riding. Hunt has never had a policy thought in his life, and finds them unbecoming in others. For him and his acolytes, a career in Parliament is a prolonged treasure hunt — and the objective is to find new and elaborate ways to uncover and exploit taxpayer-funded goodies: trips and freebies, loopholes and largesse. I have no doubt this disgusted Helen Clark — who is nothing if not ruthlessly ethical — but Hunt’s utility as a skilled inside player, prolific gossip and unnaturally gifted toady outweighed the downside enough to earn her forbearance and patronage.
Chris Carter spent too many years under Hunt’s wing. There were too many evenings in whatever exquisitely appointed office Hunt occupied at the time; too many well-blended G&Ts raised to toast Hunt’s hospitality during his nightly 6 o’clock news viewing parties. Carter, it seems clear, learned far too well the unseemly ethos to be had there.
Perhaps then it should not surprise anyone that the sense of entitlement eventually grew in Carter to the grotesque proportions we witness today. Perhaps the surprise is that more of his colleagues haven’t followed him into the abyss.