(Hoping, but without any confidence, that this will be my last post on the Carter debacle).
About six weeks ago Brian Edwards observed that Labour was its own worst enemy as far as the Chris Carter debacle went. As usual, he was dead right then, and that advice is still right now, with one rather chilling update: the incompetence which saw the parliamentary Labour party keep putting Carter and his misdeeds back on the media agenda at a time when they ought to have been making mileage at the government’s expense is shared by the wider party organisation. The Dom-Post this morning indicate some vagueness about Carter’s future status in the party, while two items on Morning Report (both audio) clearly indicate that Carter’s expulsion from the party on 7 August is far from assured, and that this debacle is likely to carry on well beyond that meeting.
For one thing, August 7 is already too late. Chris Carter, and by extension the Labour party’s rusted-on uselessness and venality, has now been a central topic of domestic political news for at least four of the past eight weeks, and has been utterly dominant throughout fully two of those weeks. A government can’t buy coverage like that, but Labour have packaged it up with a little red bow and delivered it to them post-paid. With the latest events, Carter’s expulsion from the party and a campaign to refocus the political media agenda on more substantive topics — like the mining backdown, 90-day bill, ACC reforms and National Standards — ought to have been undertaken with urgency. This need not rule out adherence to the principles of “natural justice” to which Andrew Little refers; these are compatible with a swift and decisive resolution in a healthy organisation with robust organisational structures, strong networks of competent people, and a shared commitment to the wellbeing of the party.
This is not really a matter of the public interest except inasmuch as Labour permits it to be. Labour needs a fixer, like Pulp Fiction‘s Winston Wolfe — an independent, dispassionate individual whose only interest is in resolving the issue quickly and quietly, and who has the mandate, ability and authority to get the damned job done. They needed to cauterise this wound back in June, and the need to do so now is all the more urgent. Further delay risks infection. That they have failed or refused to engage such a fixer shows an absence of nerve on the part of both the parliamentary and the organisational leadership and suggests that modern Labour is not, in fact, a healthy organisation with robust organisational structures, strong networks of competent people, and a shared commitment to the wellbeing of the party. And that is a matter of the public interest, because a strong opposition is fundamental to democracy and the health of the country.
Edit: I should add, if it’s not abundantly clear from the content of this post, that I disagree with Brian’s apparent endorsement (in his latest on the topic) of a “compassionate” response by Labour. While I have sympathy for Carter’s position, withstanding public and media criticism, however unjustified, without going off the deep end is a requirement of the job. In the words of a great (and recently returned!) former All Black captain: it’s not tiddlywinks. It may well be down to a choice between Carter’s wellbeing or that of the party, but Carter chose to throw himself upon the wheel, and whatever wounds he suffers as a consequence I consider to be self-inflicted.