David Shearer's cover (and his credibility) has been blown. He has had to concede on radio that Rufus Paynter, the roof-painting sickness beneficiary does not exist, and that his roof-painting exploits were but a parable.
Blogger Giovanni Tiso at Bat Bean Beam questioned the existence of the roof painter last week. He blogged his suspicions thus:
It’s as if he had forgotten he was the leader of the Labour party. It’s as if a Tory mole had swapped the speech he was going to give but he went ahead and read it anyway.
How many times might you have played this little game? This is a familiar story because it happens everywhere, all the time. It is the story of a great and continuing political shift, of centre-left parties buying into conservative orthodoxy throughout the Western liberal democratic universe. Adopting the language, the strategies, the tics of their traditional opponents. Losing the ability to decline social-democratic ideals except as a ritualistic preamble, or to huffily reaffirm that of course theirs is the party of the working people, the oppressed minorities, the welfare state. Or, in the most extreme cases, reimagining neoliberalism as the condition for socialism: a new equality based on the removal of safety nets and of all barriers to the circulation and accumulation of capital.
Douglas, Blair, Clinton: they were the first generation, brash and self-assured. Now, twenty years later: the exhausted groans of third-way politics.When David Shearer woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found that he had forgotten he was the leader of the Labour Party. He didn’t forget that he was a politician altogether, or he wouldn’t have reached the Auckland headquarters of Grey Power in time for his scheduled appearance. He just forgot which party had elected him leader. All this could have been prevented had he resorted to tattooing, like the guy in Memento. YOU ARE THE LEADER OF THE LABOUR PARTY. THESE ARE THE THINGS YOU STAND FOR.
And Giovanni Tiso now reports that on radio, Shearer has been forced to back away from the yarn that he fed to a recent Grey Power meeting, to the chagrin of many diehard Labour supporters and activists. Here's part of the transcript:
Hawkins: To quote a famous Labour politician, 'I've been thinking' about this constituent of yours in Mt Albert that you have used to illustrate fairness and responsibility to society, this sickness beneficiary who's up painting his roof, and I have to ask on behalf of Giovanni Tiso, who has been campaigning now bilingually to get a straight answer from you for ten days now. Did that actually happen? Is that a true anecdote from your time... [Shearer interrupts]
Shearer : Yeah, yeah, I was going around the streets before the last election, knocked on a guy's door, he walked out on the lawn with me and pointed over and said this guy supposedly - I think he said he had a bad back or a bad something or other - and the point was, I mean, wasn't actually... whether this guy was right or not I don't know, but the point is, what I was trying to make is the point about fairness and the way New Zealanders feel about fairness. They don't want... this guy in particular said look I'm working hard, I pay my taxes, I'm doing all the right things and this guy - in his opinion, and that's what I said in my thing - is ripping the system off. Now I don't care if you're a millionaire not paying his taxes or somebody on the benefit who shouldn't be getting one. The way that New Zealanders see that is that it's not fair when somebody is not doing the right thing. That's the point of what I was saying.
Hawkins : So you don't know if it's true, at no point did you go talk to the beneficiary in question?
Shearer: No, the point was Aaron - the point was how people perceive others not playing by the rules, that's all I was saying. So I mean that's a story - the account of this guy, if what he was telling me is true, but I didn't do a police investigation on somebody, but the point was how do people perceive others, and I think overwhelmingly in New Zealand we don't like people who are not playing by the rules, in a sense not adhering to what I call the social contract.
Hawkins : I don't think it's the equivalent of a police enquiry to simply fact-check an anecdote that you are going to turn into a political platform.
Shearer: It's not a political platform, the whole point of it as I keep saying to you is illustrating how people feel about others. That was all it was saying. It was somebody relating something to me and I was relating that on. It is about how people feel about others not playing by the rules. And we have a very highly developed sense for that in New Zealand, for good or for bad, and I actually think it's good. But what does happen is that if people have that perception it means that everybody who legitimately receives a benefit - and overwhelmingly New Zealanders support that as well - they actually get tarred with the same brush. It's really important that we make sure that the system works well and that people have confidence in it.
This is damaging stuff for the Leader of the Opposition. Not only did he adopt a policy position that many in his caucus and support base vehemently oppose, but it was based on an untruth, and he knew that it was based on an untruth.
David Shearer needs to clarify this whole mess, and make a public statement confirming what he told Aaron Hawkins at Radio One, which is not the most widely listened to radio station in the land. And once he's dispensed of sackcloth and ashes, he needs to call in whichever of Labour's strategic genii planted this fantasy in his brain, and give them a bollocking for dropping him in it.