12 December 2013
Convenient political amnesia is capturing all the attention at the moment, in the main because our Prime Minister cannot remember where he stood on the 1981 Springbok Tour.
While this is the latest and arguably most dramatic incidence of this malady, it is by no means the only outbreak, nor will it be the last. For example, the two Davids now running the Labour Party cannot remember that just three years ago they were proposing to sell minority shareholdings in state company subsidiaries, while now they urge people to vote no in the asset sales referendum. And someone, whose I dare not mention, cannot even remember helicopter rides or anonymous donations.
Political amnesia is an annoyingly harmless complaint of itself. Although it can be contagious and can occasionally be a precursor of the complaint known as political grandstanding (The Al Gore “I invented the internet” condition, or the chronic elderly case in the New Zealand Parliament) it is more commonly a pre-condition of “I was there, but …”, the curse many retired politicians suffer from. A very large outbreak of this has been reported in South Africa this week, with many sufferers diagnosed at the funeral of Nelson Mandela. From David Cameron, whose Tory predecessors armed the apartheid regime in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, but who know proclaims his long admiration of the anti-apartheid struggle, through to two of our former Muldoon Government senior politicians who were “always” against the 1981 Tour, they have all been there.
What is especially galling in the New Zealand instance is that the pair were in a government happy to see an itinerary which really looked more like a tour of marginal National Party provincial seats than a sports visit. They were presumably also happy that the outcome – thanks to the results in the Gisborne, New Plymouth and Hamilton electorates (all beneficiaries of tour related incidents) - was the re-election of the Muldoon Government by just one seat in the election later that year.
There are some worrying signs that over the next twelve months the incidences of this illness could become more frequent. There are already early signs National may have caught the “we were always in favour of extending paid parental leave” virus, and that Labour is seeking to ward off symptoms of the “we will exempt fresh fruit and vegetables from GST” strain.
The only known treatments are short-term and essentially palliative: the onset of summer holidays; the public’s general political tuning-out at that time; and overall relaxation. Normally, this can suppress the condition for a couple of months, but the prognosis is not good. One thing we know about all the sufferers is that relapse is frequent, and its timing predictable. About February 2014 to be precise.