Well, here it is. No surprise that this was the most-read post on Boots Theory last year, because Metiria Turei’s “downfall” and resignation was by far one of the most significant moments in New Zealand politics – not because like Jacinda Ardern’s ascension it led to a change of government, but because it addressed a fundamental question in our society. Are we willing to acknowledge that our welfare system is utterly broken, in a way that’s more than just shaking our head at the sad stories of strangers? Can we forgive a woman, a staunch Māori woman, for the “crime” of feeding her child – if she occupies a potential position of power?
It seems not.
But that’s nowhere near going to be the end of the story.
Originally published 9 August 2017
It was always a possibility in the back of my mind that Metiria Turei’s admission of benefit fraud – and the absolute flood of hatred, hypocrisy, bullying and mucky insinuations unleashed upon her by people who’ve never faced a truly hard choice in their lives – would cost her her political career. I had hope we would be better than that, especially after she had so much support from the members of her party, her co-leader, and the public.
And now she’s gone. And I’m heartbroken.
But let us be absolutely crystal FUCKING clear about this. Metiria did not resign because her admission was political suicide. She did not resign because it ~wasn’t a good look~ or whatever nonsense my commentariat comrades want to spin.
She resigned because her family, any family, could not withstand the appalling, personal, vicious abuse being hurled at them.
And I just hope all the people with loud public platforms, who absolutely dedicated themselves to destroying this wahine toa over the past weeks, are feeling proud. You’ve done great work. You dragged a young woman’s parentage into the dirt for a political hit. You positively salivated at completely minor youthful transgressions and told the nation, unequivocally, that they were the blackest sins. You gleefully reinforced every terrible stereotype about solo mums being lying sluts on the make.
You refused to let the issue die and then turned to the camera to narrate dispassionately: “this issue just won’t die.”
You’re the real winners tonight.
There was an issue people wanted to die, though: the brokenness and heartlessness of our social welfare system. The reality, which has now been exposed and brought into the light, that we as a nation are not looking after the poorest and most vulnerable. We are not making sure every child born in Godzone gets three square meals a day and shoes to run the school cross country in.
We are failing children and their parents, and it is by design, and has been for thirty years. And boy, is it clear after the firestorm of the past few weeks that y’all do not want to talk about it.
Well, too bad.
I’m not letting this issue be put back in its box, to await the magical day when a progressive, socially conscious government, which somehow defies the odds to gain power without ever letting on that it’s a progressive, socially conscious government, pulls the rabbit out of the hat and says “ta-da, we’re going to fix the welfare system.”
The question of social welfare is literally the entire point of government. How does the government ensure people live a good life? Does the government do this at all, or merely ensure the poorest and most vulnerable get just enough gruel to make them useful cogs in the economic machine? Do we give a damn about babies? Yes, even the babies whose parents made a few mistakes in their lives?
Those are the questions we must answer. This is the policy which must be changed, and changed right down to its core, not tinkered at the edges for fear of frightening the middle-class horses.
This is the conversation which we are going to have, New Zealand, because there is solidarity here. #IAmMetiria does not go away just because you’ve bullied the woman who sparked it off the scene.
Thank you Metiria. I am so, so sorry that we are not the caring, compassionate country we like to pretend to be.