Newsroom has an article with two more stories about JLR. They both worked in his out of Parliament office, and again it is pretty hard reading as they tell their stories.
Some are saying that National should have known all this years ago and deselected JLR. It is a fair question about whether National could have done more. But it’s not as simple as some claim it is. A political party is not a business where everyone is hired by one CEO and can be fired by them.
So I’m going to talk about some of the challenges involved, but also an idea for National to consider, so that there are greater protections in future.
Firstly don’t underestimate how even people close to someone can really not know them. As an example around 15 years ago when I was active in National, there were a couple of volunteers who I would have said were the loveliest couple I knew. Salt of the earth. People wanted him to stand. He was universally liked.
Then his wife was found dead in suspicious circumstances (no charges were ever laid). It turned out they had terrible rows, he had affairs with staff and was investigated for burning down a building for insurance. And he may have killed his wife (again no charges laid, and I hope he didn’t). Everyone who knew them were stunned by the revelations. Also note I am not comparing JLR to what happened here. Just saying that you can’t assume behaviours that get exposed were apparent early on.
Secondly the different women who have had bad experiences with JLR, were in a number of different roles. And unlike a business, who deals with “disputes” is quite different and sometimes unclear.
- OOP staff should go to The Parliamentary Service. But unlike staff in Parliament they don’t know them well. It is very isolated in an MP’s OOP office and you don’t get to interact with colleagues like people do in Parliament.
- Katrina Bungard was a party member and local government office holder (but not for National). There is no clear reporting mechanism for what you do if you have a problem with an MP. Going to the President was a good call and she was happy with how he acted. Some may go to a Regional Chair.
- If you are an MP and have problems with another MP, you’d normally go to the Chief Whip. And yeah, we all know the problem there. You could then go to the leader but considering the nature of what happened, you might not want to spill all. It was deeply personal stuff.
- Staff in Parliament should go The Parliamentary Service or the NLO Chief of Staff.
A third factor is that selections are done by the grass roots in National, not by the hierarchy. The board veto is really meant for cases such as criminal wrongdoing.
A fourth factor is that politics can be a bruising arena. A number of MPs are known to go through quite a few staff. We just saw that with Meka. It is a high stress environment. This is not to excuse such behaviour. Most MPs have staff who love working for them.
Even in the wider party the internal politics can be bruising. When I was a campaign chair I felt quite bruised and betrayed by a senior office holder who was constantly denigrating me. It actually led to me pulling out of all elected positions, after 20 years service (and I have never gone back). and the person denigrating me was a woman, so it’s not all bullying men.
Also don’t assume the MP is always wrong if there is a dispute with party members. I’ve seen members complain about an MP, when it is their behaviour which has been sub-standard. Political parties always have internal tensions between individuals.
If even half of what has come out now about JLR had been known, then I am sure (or hope) that interventions would had happened earlier.
But they didn’t, and that is a problem that National should acknowledge and look to see how they could improve things.
The idea I have is a single point of contact for complaints. This could be used by anyone who is a party member, candidate, MP, staffer or parliamentary staffer. They would probably have to be someone at Party HQ.
Their job would be to hear any issues that people have. It would be confidential,so that the person who approaches them doesn’t need to be named or known to anyone else. They could then take the complaint and pass it on to the appropriate person – that might be The Parliamentary Service, the NLO Chief of Staff, the Chief Whip, a Regional Chair, the Party President etc. They can have a quiet word about behaviour, or treat it more formally depending on the severity.
This would also allow that complaints officer to see early on if a particular MP or party member has a pattern of complaints that would suggest significant intervention is needed.
This would not be a substitute for staff going directly to their employer for employment issues. More a complementary service.
It wouldn’t solve all the issues either. There is no magic wand.
I don’t think National is to blame for what JLR has done. But I think they can look at what has happened and conclude that they want to reduce the chances of such stuff in future, and look for what changes they can make.