Wednesday, August 24, 2022

A few thoughts on the Sharma affair

Overwhelmingly, the opinion of press gallery journalists – including some for whom I retain a degree of respect – seems to be that Gaurav Sharma deserved what he got. Luke Malpass says so; so does Audrey Young.

But I wonder whether the public thinks the same. Political events often look different from a distance than they do from the close proximity of the press gallery, and what journalists think is often wildly at odds with public opinion. As I’ve argued before, they’re ill-equipped to know what the public thinks about anything.

Besides, reporters form their opinions based on information from political sources who have positions to protect, and no matter how conscientiously press gallery hacks try to take a neutral, objective line, their perspective is almost inevitably skewed by the views of whoever’s briefing them.

They also have a natural interest in remaining onside with their sources. All this needs to be taken into account in assessing press gallery opinion, which is often suspiciously homogeneous.

Even accepting the government line that Sharma is a problem child who got himself into trouble with his own staff and apparently refused offers of intervention, some aspects of the controversy remain unsettling.

My own antennae twitched when the story first broke. Not only did the full weight of the Labour Party machine come crashing down on the hapless Sharma – that’s politics, baby – but the media, almost without exception, obligingly parroted the government narrative from the start. The hit job on the Hamilton West MP was not only instantaneous and overwhelming but gave the impression of having media buy-in. Guilty as charged; done and dusted. It looked to me as if reporters were briefed and primed to go.

I couldn’t help but contrast the press pack’s apparent acceptance of the government line with their refusal to cut National any slack over the Uffindell saga. The difference was striking.  

Of course I can no more claim to discern what the public thinks about the Sharma furore than the press gallery, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the public view has shifted over the course of the affair. I’m inclined to agree with the talkback host I heard last night who sensed that the balance of public opinion, which he thought was initially in the government’s favour, had probably moved as the controversy evolved and the perception grew that Sharma may not have been the guilty party – or at least not the sole bearer of blame.  

The secret caucus meeting on Monday night certainly wouldn’t have helped. Gang-ups are never a good look. The irony is that this controversy arose out of bullying claims and ended up showing in plain sight exactly what political bullying looks like.

Even accepting that Sharma broke caucus rules, the manner of his punishment – no, let’s call it humiliation, which is what it is – doesn’t play well to a public concerned with fairness and due process. It’s the ugly face of politics laid bare, and the government can’t escape being damaged. 

As a talkback caller said, whatever happened to Ardern’s kindness shtick? Her earnest, imploring facial expression, so wearyingly familiar to viewers of news bulletins, has never looked more strained – some would say fake – than when she was defending the brutal demolition job on her wayward MP. The empathetic look has worked remarkably well for her, but its magic may be wearing off.




Tom C said...

Kindness was always a slogan used to pretend that she actually cared. Politics to stay in power will always trump kindness.
The trouble with the kindness slogan is that our young and naïve media believe it.

Anonymous said...

Rather than call them the press pack, call them what they are- the press herd.
Ardern has achieved her own personal herd immunity at last.


Odysseus said...

Ardern and Labour clearly did not want an investigation into Sharma's complaints, so doubts and suspicion will continue to linger around both Ardern herself and Labour like a bad smell. Dr Sharma's revelations about how Labour coaches new MPs on rorting the OIA was an important contribution to democracy. Let us hope the Ombudsman perseveres in getting to the bottom of this practice which, if true, displays contempt for both the law and the public. I also hope Dr Sharma has more information on the Labour Party which he is keen to share with us over the remainder of his term, however brief that may prove.

Finally I detected a nasty whiff of racism both from Labour and the media in their treatment of Dr Sharma. He is clearly an intelligent person and a high achiever who sets high standards typical of many Indian people who are determined to achieve in a new country. It was to make a target and a scapegoat of him as a result.

Ben Thomas said...

As far as I am aware Sharma has made several allegations but no real evidence. Until he produces some real evidence he stands as a self serving troublemaker.

hughvane said...

I know this is not about Sharma (and his karma), but pleease Karl, turn your attention to the Teaching Council debacle in respect of disciplining a relief teacher who dared to flick ear buds out of a pupil's ear.

More about the Teaching Council here

Associated kerfuffle here

Anonymous said...


Labour puts a person in place, according to DR Sharma, as his Parliamentary services account manager who had actively tried to stop him being selected as the candidate for Hamilton West.....and all the troubles flowed from there... hmmm

Ms Ardern has jacked up a kangaroo court in private it seems, then denied it, then had evidence presented by way of a screen grab of the zoom meeting where the kangaroo court was in session and the Press say nothing to see here.

One off approach or just the normal MO?

Dr Sharma was gaslight by words to the effect that Labour were concerned about his mental well being - code for dont listen to him he is crazy - by senior Labour figures.

All the normal PJIF bought and paid for mouthpieces piled on instantaneously and with virtually no divergence in reporting.

Stinks like a stitch up, walks like a stitch up - good odds its a stitch up.

And then to cap it all, Trev the Muss resigns/retires with perfect timing to prevent the issue of Dr Sharma coming up in question time this week for Ms Ardern to answer questions (Wednesday vote for new Speaker then all other business postponed, Thursday Ms Ardern off at a Kindy somewhere, Friday no sitting) Witless Protection in full flow....

Andy Espersen said...

Time, and time only, will tell. Labour will not try to invoke their waka-jumping legislation (they would if it suited them!) - so Sharma will remain in parliament for a year.

If he plays his cards right, and if he proves to have sufficient intellect, he can become a much more important political factor in Parliament than if he had remained a powerless Labour back-bencher.

It seems to me he has both the intellect and the necessary political nous. He quite unexpectedly won Hamilton West, don't forget. Voters there will very much resent the way Labour is treating him - and should he choose to stand again in 2023 he may very well win the seat as an independent (very especially if National opts not to stand a candidate!!).

Andy Espersen said...

Further thoughts about Sharma : Just now read about Sharma’s initiative this afternoon to criticise the previous speaker for his behaviour towards him.

His critics are wrong. This occasion was not just to honour the new speaker (who received fulsome praise from Sharma) – but also, of course, to add any criticism against the previous speaker’s latest behaviour, if necessary. What better time could you choose??

pdm said...

Karl I was in Sharma's camp from day one - being when I first heard of his problems and his existence with the Labour caucus. Perhaps it was my bias against Ardern and the very divisive track she is taking the country down that initially influenced me.

Now I think he has proved himself and I think he has more proof to drip feed through the Parliamentary system and being able to take advantage of Parliamentary Privilege will help so I say to him GO YOU GOOD THING. BTW I think that tactically he is smarter than Ardern and most of her kitchen cabinet.

There is another similar issue that has been moved into obscurity by the Sharma Drama but it hit the news bulletins pretty much at the same time - the bullying of a member of her staff by former Waipukurau girl Anna Lorck - Tukituki MP.

Never the nicest person it seems Anna Lorck is currently getting a free ride on this issue and as member of her constituency I would like to know if there was an enquiry and what action was taken.

Richard said...

Reporters keep labelling Sharma's claims as 'baseless' or 'unsubstantiated'. Surely the meeting with McAnulty over the bullying accusation, where the latter didn't turn up and Sharma was left awkwardly waiting for over an hour with other officials, as McAnulty was off boozing, could easily be verified through ministerial diaries, other officials etc.
Compare this lack of research to journalists publishing Dunedin City Council records of Uffindell's flat 20 years ago !
The cynicism shown by the gallery over the kangaroo court speaks volumes.

Chris Morris said...

The thing that disturbed me most about the media's reporting of the case was him being invariably labelled a rogue MP. My dictionary defines that as dishonest of unprincipled. On all the evidence so far, he has displayed none of those qualities. He may have upset his office staff but the allegations made so far look trivial. And there are members, even Ministers, of the Labour team who have been proven to have done far worse without consequence.
Mr Sharma may have major personality or behavioral defects, but there has been no evidence produced of any. As such, he deserves the benefit of the doubt and not have his reputation besmirched.
No doubt the reporters may wonder why the public hold them in such low esteem. Episodes like this support the public's distrust.

Doug Longmire said...

The mainstream media really showed their true colours (Red) over this issue.
It was laughably crystal clear, the way they all swung in to trot out the government line and put the boot into Sharma.
I found Comrade Ardern's comment about "being concerned for Sharma's well being" was an egregious knife in the back.

Ribro90 said...

His claim he was given a manager by Parliamentary Services who was a political opponent is easy for our independent press to check? And is this the same person claiming that Dr Sharma is a bully?
Seems $50,000,000 buys a heap of press loyalty.

Don Franks said...

Apart from his willingness to stand alone and speak out I have not yet formed a clear picture of Dr Shama, I'll follow his future with interest. Yes there was a dutiful gang up by the establishment. Parliament is in many respects a toxic place. Over recent years its seemed to be more and more about maintaining an appropriate government image. An image of everything being well, nothing amiss to report, nothing voters need have any ongoing concerns about.This prioritisation of spin above truth necessitates everyone playing their allotted part, any departure from the script to be hushed up and swiftly punished.

Karl du Fresne said...

hughvane (belatedly),
Re the Teaching Council, the best I can do us steer readers to Joe Bennett's two excellent columns on the subject:

Karl du Fresne said...


Eamon Sloan said...

I am following Karl’s headline. A few points about Sharma. My hope is that he will hang on and become as much of an embarrassment to Labour as possible. I suppose Labour feels it can expend the political capital available in Hamilton West – capital brought to them by Sharma himself at the 2020 election. The 2020 result was a major turnaround. There was a sizable margin in both party and constituency votes.

One commenter mentioned the new Speaker’s put down of Sharma. The put down was to remind Sharma that references to his expulsion from caucus were not appropriate to the occasion at hand. Yet David Seymour was permitted to conduct a determined personal attack on Mallard, the departing Speaker. Sharma and Seymour will now have their words set in the Hansard record.

I happened by chance to view on the Parliament channel some of the speeches and ceremonial goings on. Apart from the Sharma and Seymour speeches it had all the trappings of a Khumbaya festival.

Unknown said...

The Freedom Camp at Parliament in Feb/March pulled back the curtain on the disdain that this Labour led Govt has for New Zealanders in general. The camps energy was everthing they are not, loving, caring, unity for all. Like Sharma, they have thrown everything at anyone protesting or challenging their myriad of poor, undemocratic decisions and idealogies, taking exerts from The Marxist playbook to deal with the dissenters. If he plays his cards right he could be a crucial part of bringing Labour down next election. What a sweet victory that would be...I think we might see dancing in the streets.

Anonymous said...

Let's Hope the ombundsmen isn't being bribed too and actually follows up the allegations

D'Esterre said...

"If he plays his cards right he could be a crucial part of bringing Labour down next election. What a sweet victory that would be...I think we might see dancing in the streets."

I do hope so. I've been an unwilling (and at times disbelieving) witness to the behaviour of Labour- and Green-aligned Councillors here at WCC over the most recent term. Recently, I had an e-mail exchange with a Labour ward Councillor, which illustrated that she has only the haziest idea of what constitutes democracy.

On that basis, and with regard to Sharma, I come down on the no-smoke-without-fire side of the controversy.

rouppe said...

The ombudsman will be fobbed off with "we were instructing how it worked". Conveniently sidestepping that this also instructs how to bypass it

Andy Espersen said...

Further on Sharma : “If he plays his cards right .......” is a recurrent comment above. The Labour “waka-jumping” legislation was up for trial here for the first time – but Labour is not going to invoke it (for excellent reasons, by the way!!). When really pondering on this legislation I wonder if it is legally possible (irrespective of the passed legislation) to force an MP, elected in a real electorate, to leave his seat if he/she does not want to.

I think the NZ Supreme Court would find it constitutionally wrong. Whereas it can be argued that an MP only on a party list is in a different category

Don Franks said...

Regarding the Ombudsman being fobbed off. I worked with Peter Boshier on Salient in 1972. He was then a quietly spoken liberal lefty law student who carefully read the ( then) stridently revolutionary paper for libel content. In my view the man has since then kept his integrity more intact than just about any other public figure I know. I would not expect the present ombudsman to take any shit from anyone.

Frederick Williscroft said...

I have been watching this unfold from UK and Iceland. So therefore I am only relying on media available to me so for example I have not been able to access One news who usually can be relied upon to jump to the governments defence on nearly all occasions.

What I can't fathom is that where the Govt has been found out, how quickly most of the media have been to move on. When Jacinda Ardern suggested that their had been no pre meeting to determine Sharmas's fate but a leaked photo proved otherwise then she was clearly lying. I thought their would be a pile on from a great height. Not to be. Then when Newshub advised that they had spoken to another Labour MP who had collaborated Sharma's story I thought here we go, game set and match. Not to be. If this had been the National party I imagine this would have been milked for all money and Luxon interrogated at great length as to why he "lied".

Incidentally a friend from NZ advised that on RNZ Luxon unbelievably received an 8 minute grilling on his "Facebook post". As he surmised whenever did the PM or in fact any senior cabinet minister receive an 8 minute grilling on any subject on RNZ.

I have a number of friends/contacts who work in Parliament in non politically aligned roles. They often comment on who are the good buggers and who are diffident, unfriendly, objectionable. After all they don't really have to put on their professional face when dealing with these people. By all accounts Sharma is a bloody good sort. Friendly, affable, humorous. I know that he enjoyed a amicable relationship in Hamilton with Tim McIndoe who was one of parliaments genuine nice guys. So while he may secretly be a monster I think most unlikely that he is the tyrannical bully portrayed by the Labour party.

Let's hope that he has some more ammunition to serve up so that we get rid of the most inept Govt I have seen in my lifetime.