Leilani Tamu on the Blood Sport That is New Zealand Politics
In the wake of Metiria Turei's exit, the Green Party candidate reflects on how the former leader challenged the traditional political system.
Leilani Tamu, image supplied
In New Zealand, it's often said that politics is a "blood sport". The metaphor conjures up images of men fighting it out, either on ancient battlegrounds or the bloody-nosed rugby field. In describing politics as a blood sport our political writers and commentators, by default, condone a distinctive kind of political morality that is commonly known as Machiavellian.
Machiavelli was the 16th-century author whose writing came to shape the way of doing politics in Western society. Because this system was introduced to Aoteaora, it is clearly not grounded in indigenous values or frameworks but rather in colonial ones. As a result, the way we describe how we do politics in this country becomes a conversation about power and control. The key question is: who gets to hold the pen and determine the rules?
Listening to and reading some of the vitriol that has been levelled at Metiria Turei since disclosing she claimed more benefit than she was entitled to when she was a solo mother has made me wonder how some parts of our society are completely comfortable with Machiavellian politics, especially when it comes to punishing anyone who has the guts to say they've done something wrong.
It is taken for granted that politicians are all dishonest but the number one rule is to never admit it. Metiria committed the ultimate Machiavellian sin—she admitted to having been dishonest to cast light on the hardships of others. Then, according to Audrey Young and other commentators, she didn't appear sorry enough for it. Let's face it, what they really wanted to see was a Māori woman on her knees begging for mercy in front of the predominantly Pakeha media scrum. And she refused to do it because she wasn't playing Machiavellian politics. She was demonstrating the opposite: honesty.
In going against the system as Metiria did, you question the validity of the traditional approach and the commentary which legitimises it. From where I stand, the blood sport of politics and the game that has been played for far too long in this country is the reason why so many of us have been silenced and why an inequitable system that has led to significant economic and social oppression in this country continues to exist. Until politicians choose not to play the game and put their own self-interest and personal gain last and the people first, as Metiria did, nothing will change.
I'd like to contend that yes, politics is a blood sport. But from here on, for as long as I'm involved in it, I'm going to redefine what that means. Because power isn't everything. Standing up for what is right and what you believe in is what's important. And for women—especially for Māori and Pasifika women—the significance of blood is much greater than war and violence on the battlefield. Blood is core to new life, to our babies, to our ancestral ties, and to the legitimacy of our values—where family and the environment are treasured and supported. And, most importantly, blood represents unity—a unified Aotearoa, where everyone who bleeds is represented and every voice counts.