That is John Armstrong’s take on Parliament yesterday:
An ugly afternoon in Parliament – and, at times, a downright nasty one; an afternoon when the atmosphere was choked with personal attacks, personal insults, charges of blackmail, allegations of dirt-throwing and threats to really dish the dirt. …
Quite why things should have got so rough is hard to explain. But the tone was set from the moment the Prime Minister produced some material which she and Labour thought would finally nail John Key. …
But if Clark’s gaffe was a low point – and it was revealing in showing the lengths to which Labour is going to find some dirt on Key – there was more to come.
Has Clark apologised yet by the way?
A further argument which began with Mark’s leader, Winston Peters, accusing National of “venal, corrupt politics” culminated in Act leader Rodney Hide referring to Peters as a “tired old drunk”.
It took a few minutes, but Peters eventually demanded Hide apologise. “If he does not, then I am going to tell the House the truth about him, which I have hitherto kept to myself. He can laugh and giggle. This is his last warning.”
But Hide argued he could not apologise. If he did, it would look like he was being blackmailed and Peters had “something on me that was true”.
There was more argument and more intervention from the Speaker. But no apology. Peters saved whatever he had to say about Hide for another day.
In fact Rodney did not call Winston a “tired old drunk”. The full Hansard is below:
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Insurance Council of New Zealand is a subscriber to a political party’s coffers and gains from it a commitment to privatise ACC after the next election, what do we call that, if not venal, corrupt politics?
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That member is an experienced member and knows that it is out of order to imply that someone in the House is influenced by factors outside the House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: The member certainly raised that as a possibility; he did not state it as a fact. I think there is room for the Minister to answer the question properly.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just because the truth hurts is no reason for someone to object in this House. Let me say this: the Insurance Council of New Zealand is a subscriber to the National Party’s coffers. Those members know it, and I—
Madam SPEAKER: That is not speaking to the point of order.
Rodney Hide: That is not correct. The Minister has no responsibility for what Mr Peters raised. And Mr Mallard is wrong, because if he were right, we would be able to raise as a possibility that Mr Peters is a tired old drunk, and we are not allowed to say that.
Rodney was making the point that Winston can not accuse MPs of corruption by hiding behind the defence he merely said it was a possibility, and used an example to illustrate that.
But the interjections, barracking, needling and insults continued. At one point, Labour’s Trevor Mallard described a question from National’s Anne Tolley as “just stupid”. The stopper had clearly been put on the milk of human kindness.
But most sobering of all was the realisation that all this was a portent of what is yet to come – an ugly, nasty and vicious election campaign.
Sadly John will probably be correct. But I would suggest readers reflect on where the ugliness, the nastines and viciousness is almost exclusively coming from.