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The Curious Case of Chris Carter

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Caucus Race
Caucus Race
Chris Carter

This week Chris Carter gets the opportunity to again put the knife into any chance of Labour winning the next election and all the signs are he will.

 The latest threat to write a ``kick and tell’’ book on the last Labour Government points to a man captured by his own self-importance and who sees himself as mattering more than the party he professes to loves and its current leadership which he clearly despises.
 
Carter is due to get the Labour nomination for Te Atatu on October 8 and so far there is no one to stand against him even though he has been expelled from the Labour caucus.
 
There are moves to remove him from the party altogether, but the wheels of discipline are grinding slowly in Labour and some will start suspecting soon that the wider Labour party is more interested in internal politics than it is in trying to win the next election.
 
Carter argues he has no gripe with Labour, just with the leadership. He reckons Labour can not win on the current course and has to get rid of Phil Goff to have a chance.
 
He is probably right about election chances, but everyone sensible in Labour knows it is about maintaining a base of support and Goff is the only one capable of doing that at present.
 
Chris Carter’s role now seems to be venal and selfish. It seems to be about preserving himself and his position as long as possible, while causing maximum collateral damage to Goff.
 
Carter is not the first upset MP to try and white ant his leader. National’s Maurice Williamson did a grand job at it with Bill English, but to his credit he did it openly and after English lost an election.
 
Carter tried to be sneaky before an election was lost and when caught out said it was not about him but the greater good of the party.
 
To understand the man and his motivation, it is important to look at Carter’s career.
 
When Chris Carter became the MP for Te Atatu in 1993 he proclaimed that he was the first openly gay MP in Parliament.
 
It took some in his electorate by surprise because most of them did not know his sexuality, as it had not been mentioned during the campaign and probably most did not care, but it was not to be the last time Carter was to play the gay card when it suited him
 
In 1993 Te Atatu was a hard fought seat, National had taken the area in the landslide of 1990 and hoped to hang on to it.
 
The local candidate for the Nats had wanted to dog whistle the ``gay issue’’, but was over ruled by Bill Birch who said it was not a good idea.
 
Birch was a clever man. He knew it would have made no difference either way, the red tide was sweeping back over south Auckland.
 
So Chris Carter came to Parliament and became the first openly gay MP in Parliament after he was elected.
 
Three years later Tim Barnett actually told the good people of Christchurch Central that he was gay before they voted and he romped in as well.
 
The careers of Barnett and Carter make for interesting comparisons, both became whips, both were good at their jobs.
 
Carter got a bit of a reputation as a bully, but it is hard to know whether such stories are true. Notably though he got famous for gathering dirt, which on one occasion spectacularly backfired when he told Helen Clark that some one was a murderer when he was guilty of manslaughter and Clark had to settle a defamation case.
 
Carter got promoted to Cabinet, Barnett became the patron saint for the liberal left and most notably promoted the decriminalisation of prostitution.
 
Barnett would have probably been a good minister. He was an organiser, knew how to get the numbers and had a keen political nose.
 
But by the time he was pushing for promotion Labour were already recoiling from the social conservatives backlash over charges of social engineering and destroying ``family values’’, all things which Barnett had become the poster boy for.
 
Barnett did not throw his toys out of the cot; there were no tantrums, threats or even dark murmurings. He did the job he was given and did it well until the day he walked out of Parliament and into a new life.
 
Meanwhile Carter rose through the ranks. There was no doubt he was a hard working minister and strong advocate for his portfolio areas.
 
Sometimes this was to his colleague’s distress. Trevor Mallard was driven crazy by Carter’s insistence that Solid Energy should spend millions of dollars on saving a snail that was not in need of saving and would have probably done better in the wild than the fridges of Carter’s DOC.
 
Carter also got on the wrong side of the law when he over ruled advice to try and can a marina in Whangamata. There was an argument to be had either way, but most suspect he was swayed by former Labour party president Bob Harvey who was worried about the effect on a surf break.
 
Carter got stomped in court as his decision was wrong in law
 
Over the years Carter fell to the classic problems that beset many senior ministers who start to believe their own publicity... hubris.
 
He built up a huge sense of entitlement and a hunger for world travel in nice hotels with his partner at the taxpayers’ expense.
 
Anyone who questioned him was dismissed as not understanding how hard he worked, those who pushed harder were accused of picking on him because he was gay.
 
The last playing of the gay card to defend his large expenses bill was a signal of the end of Carter’s career, and Goff tried to bring it to a close after Carter made a bumbling attempt to manufacture a covert coup.
 
When caught out be his own amateurism, Carter tried to make it about Goff and in doing so made it a battle to the death.
 
It is a battle that Carter could stretch out for months, contaminating the Mana by-election with Labour’s internal wrangling.
 
While Goff will try to make traction on issues, instead he will be fighting battles within his own party.
 
He now has to decide whether to call Carter’s bluff over the threat to write a book to be published during next year’s election campaign unless he is allowed to ``reconcile with Goff’’.
 
Going on Carter’s current record the book is bound to be self-serving and would probably have little in the way of dirt on those Carter counts as friends. Goff is very unlikely to have ever done anything seriously interesting or naughty in his entire life, so has little to fear.
 
But Carter will continue to prick away, when Labour’s limited chances of beating a popular first term Government meant total focus, dedication and unity.

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