The online book Oat the Goat teaches young children about the power of kindness and teaches the skills that prevent bullying. Perhaps all MPs should be required to read it?
My friend Martyn Bradbury over in the Daily Blog has got himself in a spin about the latest allegations relating to Sam Uffindell. In particular, he has launched a blistering attack on “the left”, using the following spicy language:
The Left have gone into a virtue signalling frenzy screaming their moral superiority, this micro aggression overkill and constant vengeance fantasies for those they hate is as intense as Qanon Incels getting stood up on a date.
The thing is, I can’t find that left anywhere. My own blog yesterday was basically about feeling a bit sorry for Sam, while noting his class privilege. I can’t see anything online about people screaming for his head – even after the latest allegation (more about that in a moment).
Having said that, my feelings have hardened overnight. With Sam’s own admission of having been a bully, it is time to properly examine the allegations about what sort of person he is.
The reality is that if four 16 year old Māori descended on a (white) 13 year old on a street in Otara with wooden bed legs, they would be had up for aggravated assault. The fact that Sam’s assault happened in a sheltered environment does not take away from the event. There has, in fact, been a systematic process of talking down the incident by National.
Ruling class 16 year olds may get a second chance, but the same opportunities are rarely extended to youth members of the Killer Beez.
Martyn calls the latest allegation “he banged on a door 19 years ago”. But that’s not what was said, was it? Without having any desire to overplay this story, he, by his own admission high on alcohol and pot, trashed the flat they lived in and screamed at her through the door of her room, pounding on it. She fled in fear and basically never went back. Serious? Well, yes.
Presumably, by his own admission a bully, there are more such stories. Every one of them will get in the media. That is the nature of the beast, but hardly a leftie conspiracy.
Apart from the class privilege issue, there are other matters at stake. Sam claims that he has changed. I am sure he has learned to suppress his bullying urges. But under pressure, and Parliament is a pressure-cooker environment if nothing else, people tend to show their worst sides.
I have always said that Parliament is a place where bullying is not only condoned, it is compulsory. There are many competing pressures on people to tow the line, swallow ‘dead fish’ and manage as best they can. The pressures tell on workmates, wider staff, other MPs and families. Those with the loudest voice, those who are happy to bully and hector to get their way, tend to do well. While exciting and fascinating, Parliament is not exactly a healthy workplace, as Debbie Francis’s 2019 report makes clear.
It is hard to see how Parliament can change if we keep electing graduate bullies to positions of power. I do think that Jacinda herself has shown leadership towards a more healthy environment, but there are people around her who still do the bullying work for her.
I feel extremely sorry for Sam. Being a brand new MP, coming in halfway through a term, is difficult and confusing enough. To have his past come up to meet him like this, then to be expelled from caucus, must be absolutely devastating. I worry for his wellbeing, frankly.
We live in a very imperfect society. Bullying and sexual harassment are rife in all our institutions. No-one can listen to the Abuse in State Care hearings without cringing, and wondering what sort of society we have that tolerates such abuse of the poor, powerless, female, brown and disabled.
Yet we seem to have no idea, at the individual, institutional or societal level how to deal with these things. Instead, individuals pop as a perpetrators or victims and pay the price of that, while nothing much seems to change more globally.