Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Uffindell affair and what it tells us about National

I shook my head in disbelief when the National Party announced its candidate in the Tauranga by-election. Sam Uffindell seemed the ultimate white bread man.

He conformed to every National Party stereotype: white, male, with a privileged background and a successful business career. In other words, the perfect candidate for a party previously led by John Key (who lacked the privileged background, but ticked the other boxes) and now by Christopher Luxon, who between them seem to have laid down the template for National’s vision of the ideal politician.

Unfortunately, Uffindell also came across as a dullard – stolid, uninspired and uninspiring. In that respect too, he could be compared with Key and Luxon, although if you were to be charitable you might concede that those two at least had some vestige of personality – unlike Uffindell, who displays all the charisma of a concrete block.

If you wanted to be cynical, I suppose you could say he was the perfect candidate for Tauranga, a city that gives the impression of worshipping Mammon more fervently than any other outside Auckland. But even so, Uffindell seemed a spectacularly tone-deaf choice.

Granted, the cult of diversity has been taken to dangerous extremes whereby important appointments are made on the basis of ethnicity, sexual orientation and other signifiers of victimism rather than ability. But at a time when the New Zealand electorate has never been more demographically dynamic, Uffindell was an anachronistic reversion to the 1960s, when everyone took it as read that those who represented us in Wellington would be middle-aged (or older) white males.

He reminded me in some ways of Alastair Scott, the National MP who represented my own electorate of Wairarapa for two terms. Scott was a wealthy merchant banker and vineyard owner whose main talent, apart from making money, was turning up for photo opportunities. He bailed out in 2020 – perhaps because he realised he had done nothing to earn advancement in the National hierarchy, or saw his Labour rival Kieran McAnulty looming large in his rear-vision mirror – and now the energetic McAnulty has a good chance of turning the seat into a safe Labour one. Has National learned nothing?

But back to Uffindell. Anyone thinking that the MP for Tauranga must have hidden depths visible only to the National selection panel would have been disabused of that notion by his maiden speech in Parliament. Maiden speeches are political set pieces that give neophyte politicians a rare chance to tell us something about themselves, their values and their vision, as Thomas
 Coughlan reminded us in the New Zealand Herald. But Uffindell’s told us little, other than giving the impression that he was mightily pleased with himself. Take this excerpt, for instance:

"I spent the first 12 years of my career in Sydney and Singapore—modern, forward-thinking, successful, advanced economies and societies. I led high-performing teams and high-performing cultures. I worked to reduce inefficiencies, to innovate, to problem-solve. We committed ourselves to utilising our resources to the best of our ability and to achieving set, measurable outcomes.”

And this:

“When I was young I played a lot of sport, and every time I played my dad taught me to play to win—and I did. And I loved it. Now we don't even keep the score.”

And this, which must surely make him a sitter for the title of parliamentary brown-noser of the year, assuming such an honour exists:

“In Christopher [Luxon], I have huge confidence that he will rise to be one of our great Prime Ministers, and it is and always will be an enormous honour to serve on his team. He inspires confidence, commitment, and belief, and he has all the skills, experience and vision necessary to drive our country to where we want to be. ”

As of yesterday, of course, we do now know something more about the new MP for Tauranga, although he didn’t mention it in his maiden speech and it’s something he would doubtless prefer to have kept secret.

Should Uffindell be punished for what appears to have been a nasty act of bullying that he committed as a teenager at boarding school against someone three years younger? That’s a tricky question. Many of us did things in our past lives that we now regret and are ashamed of.

On the other hand it can be argued that what he did, even though it happened 22 years ago, says something about his character. And more to the point, Uffindell must realise that when you put yourself forward for public office, you invite the public’s scrutiny and judgment regarding your past conduct. Such judgment can be harsh, but that’s the nature of a transparent democracy

We are also entitled to form opinions about the timing of his apology to his victim. Not everyone will be convinced he apologised because it was something that had weighed on his mind and he wanted to clear his conscience.

His victim certainly doesn’t seem to think that. He appears to have accepted the apology in good faith at the time but later wondered (as you would) whether it was given in an attempt to empty Uffindell’s cupboard of a potentially embarrassing skeleton before he announced his run for office. You don’t have to be a sceptic to regard the timeline as suspicious.

And then – oh, dear – there’s the National Party. Deputy leader Nicola Willis says she didn’t know about the unpleasant episode at King’s College until yesterday. This conveniently distances her from the now problematical MP for Tauranga and absolves her of any embarrassing implication in a cover-up. But it’s beyond astonishing that no one in the party thought to tell National’s leader or his deputy about the existence of a political landmine awaiting inevitable detonation under Uffindell and the party.

What does this tell us about National’s selection procedures and its internal lines of communication? You can only conclude that even after repeatedly choosing narcissistic, entitled, dysfunctional male candidates whose flashing neon warning signs appear to have been ignored, the party keeps re-cocking the selection pistol and aiming it in the direction of its feet. This puts a giant question mark over National's claim to competence and will leave people wondering whether the party can be trusted to govern us.


Max Ritchie said...

National on its worst day is better than the current lot. And where did your expertise regarding Tauranga come from? I live there. It’s a nice, unexciting provincial city, like lots of others in NZ but with a better climate. No sign of Mammon worship but there are a lot of churches.

Kiwiwit said...

I don't really care about Uffindell's schoolboy bullying, but I find it disappointing that National, through its candidate selections and policy priorities, continually reinforces that it is a principle-free zone.

Odysseus said...

I think he will make a fine Speaker of the House, he seems eminently qualified. This is a deliberate political distraction Karl, to divert attention away from far more important news like the Auditor General's damning report on 3 Waters which the media appear to be studiously avoiding. Community assets confiscated and placed under an opaque web of arrangements, which allow no accountability nor possibility of audit, for the benefit of iwi corporates. I'd vote for Attila the Hun if he promised to put a stop to such nonsense. It's a question of perspective.

Anonymous said...

It was not bullying. It was a violent gang attack with weapons. If you did this anywhere else in the community it would be called GBH

JohnC said...

Uffindel seems terribly normal and normal people are no good at politics. He must be strangely misguided if he thinks that being in Parliament is aspirational. One suspects he'd be better off (and happier) being productive in the real world where he hails from. And where were National's media advisors when he gave that clanger of a maiden speech? National needs to sharpen up in all phases of its game. Richard Prebble was right when he made the statement: 'National can win, but can it govern?'

Hilary Taylor said...

Yes, sigh..the Nats...1 step forward, 3 steps backward...Uffindell is unimpressive & now this. Jeez. Like Odysseus though I'd vote for whomever can 'rid me of this turbulent priest'...an end to celebrity politics, it's anyone but Ardern, me. Not hopeful...

rouppe said...

I too thought "not again" when I heard this story.

However I think we are once again trying to judge people's actions in the past by today's standards. @Anonymous at 1:10pm sums it up. "It's Grievous Bodily Harm!" he says. Yeah right, tell that to the kids currently using axes and hammers to conduct ram raids and strike police officers in the head. Even if they do get caught, it'll be hugs from Aunty, not jail, borstal or hard labour for these "poor wee kids who are bored and are being failed by a racist white society".

I've said elsewhere, that I would never send any child of mine to boarding school, because this sort of bullying and stand-over stuff has been going on for a century. It is a self fulfilling behaviour, as every third former seeks to "get their own back" when they get to the fifth or sixth form.

Even so, at my son's school in Wellington (he's now year 12), they've basically locked off all the bathrooms because there are a small minority of boys damaging them and covering them with graffiti.

I was punched by a Maori at school for refusing to tie his shoelaces. Hate crime? I was punched to the ground and given a kicking during the Springbok tour basically just for being a student at the time at Waikato. So what. No serious injury. Move on. No one cares.

Can't work out why it is different for Uffindell.

R Singers said...

Are you suggesting that the only viable potential politians are those who during their teenage years were so dull and boring that they didn't do a single thing wrong?

I strongly suspect they'd be so out of touch with the realities of most people's lives that they would be worse than the current mob of dullard ex-student politicians.

Karl du Fresne said...

"Are you suggesting that the only viable potential politicians are those who during their teenage years were so dull and boring that they didn't do a single thing wrong?"
No. Don't be silly.

Rob said...

I see this as an problem of the National Party rather than Uffindell. Anyone can have ambition but the party lines up its team. Next year is arguably the most important election in our lifetimes and broadly we have a choice between an incompetent, anti-democratic government or a party of empty vessels whose values and principles are waiting on a focus group somewhere. I say this as a lifelong National voter. Of course I'll vote for them or ACT, but I'll be holding my nose.

oneblokesview said...

Why am I not surprise re the Uffindell thing.

Am a Tauranga Voter, during the selection process, myself and NONE of my right wing cohort could see any benefit of selecting a Jonnie come lately to represent Tauranga.

I guess the other alternative guy(Local Builder self employed) a real local bloke, didnt match the selection panels dream.

Said then and still think the guy is a pretentious prat.

Madame Blavatsky said...

It's pretty straightforward in my opinion: the incident was 20 years ago and he was expelled from the school at the time. Big deal, move on. Labour and their media arm are transparently using faux moral outrage to try and get an opposition scalp to distract from the fact that Labour are so awful. As soon as you cave in to your political opponents who are acting in bad faith, you've lost.

Sven said...

Is he a bad white boy and full of his own shit what do you think, the question that needs to be asked does he have the ability to smash the living daylights out of the arse holes destroying our country, probably not, and like a lot of successful business people will only say what you want to hear,unless they are caught with their pants down then apologies all round, lets see how he preforms over the next few months, if he is a wet blanket cut his head off.

Andy Espersen said...

I loved your pun : “white bread man”. White bread goes with being “stolid, uninspired and uninspiring”! Eating white bread you get nothing really nourishing into you – nothing which will make you grow as a person. And New Zealand these days more than anything needs MP’s out of the ordinary. We need MPs that stand out in a crowd as an inspiration, MPs that have shown in their lives they have the ability to make their mark in some area or other, to achieve something , to create something personally.

And you are so right : in maiden speeches you will detect that “fire in the belly” we want - or at the very least the smoke of a fire. As it happened, I listened to ACT’s new members’ speeches – and could smell such smoke in most of them! I feel sure ACT’s leadership and board consciously went for folks with “fire in their belly” – with character - with a conviction in their heart - with an ethical aim. Just picking candidates who are masters in expressing platitudes won’t do. The end-result is "white-bread legislation" – and a "white-bread New Zealand".

In our MMP electoral system it is more important than ever to be conscious about this – as Jim Anderton found out the hard way when he picked Al Amain Kopu! It is an awesome responsibility to be a legislator. Not enough respect is given to the task of choosing candidates.

hughvane said...

Pardon moi, m'sieur, but your spite is showing.

Your anti-Nat sentiments are a matter of record, and well-known amongst your followers Karl, but laying the boot into Uffindell will achieve little or nothing. Our principal aim has to be the removal of the present riffraff from government.

Karl du Fresne said...

Just because National is (marginally) less obnoxious than the other lot doesn't mean its manifest failings should be ignored.

R Singers said...

Karl, I don't think anyone thinks National should be given a free pass. However as Odysseus mentions above the timing of this story is suspicious. The more oxygen it takes from things like the Auditor General's report on 3 Waters and local body elections, the more it encourages dirty politics and non-transparency.

I was listening to the FSU podcast with Prof. Kit Fine last night and he makes the point that people in positions of authority should be expected to behave in a responsible and dignified manner, and when they don't there should be consequences.

This all just feels like wrestling with a pig (you get dirty and the pig enjoys it).

Karl du Fresne said...

*FSU=Free Speech Union

hughvane said...

@R Singers - thank you, I meant to add to my previous response the question: who paid or persuaded who to disclose the Uffindell ‘scandal’?

@Karl - "manifest"? Compared with which other Party?

Gazotaki said...

Karl, like you I was surprised to see him selected. I initially thought they may grab Tania Tapsell who made a good fist of the election in 2020. Now Rotorua may get a good mayor if she is successful.

Few of us would like our cupboards bared but for me, childish bullying and absurd behaviour at Otago are non events.

Had he just joined the student union and paraded for labour we would just have another lousy labour clone and we have enough of them.

My past, like many others, was extremely varied and at times I could have slipped either way but I grew up and became a reasonable member of society, raised some responsible and worthwhile kids and pretty much behaved myself.

Should I be judged on my youthful behaviours? I hope not and nor should Sam Uffindell.

As an aside, one of my kids attended Otago and took great pride in having a filthy flat. I'm quite sure he isn't so keen on his kids emulating that in their rooms today but maybe when the time does come he will think back.