Wednesday, March 22, 2006

John Armstrong: Swift resignation big favour to Labour

In willingly walking the plank, David Parker has done himself a big favour. But he has done his party an even bigger one.

Whether he voluntarily resigned his remaining portfolios of transport, energy and climate change or was pushed out of the Cabinet is somewhat academic.

His willingness to go means the Prime Minister has got what she wanted without a fight - a sacrifice to atone for Labour's perceived sins, notably its raiding of parliamentary funds for election advertising and the failure to punish David Benson-Pope.

Monday's article in Investigate magazine claiming Mr Parker had filed false declarations to the Companies Office was a fork in the road for Labour.

Its first inclination was to go down the wrong track and tough it out. Then the Labour hierarchy came to its senses. Mr Parker was in the exact same political predicament as David Benson-Pope - a prima facie case of wrongdoing hanging albatross-like around his neck and consequently the Government's.

He had to go. A potentially-outstanding ministerial career lies in tatters - for now. But Mr Parker has given himself the option of a way back.

As long as he is not found guilty of an offence carrying two or more years in jail - thereby forcing him to leave Parliament - he has a good chance of making it back into Cabinet. His punishment may end up being on a par with those of Lianne Dalziel or Ruth Dyson, who were out for 18 and eight months respectively.

Mr Benson-Pope remains in the Cabinet - but as damaged goods. A place on Labour's front bench is now permanently out of his reach.

Not so for Mr Parker.

Those close to him insist he had made the decision on his own to go to the Prime Minister's office yesterday morning to voluntarily offer his resignation from the Cabinet.

However, the Prime Minister had decided to accept it before he arrived. For Helen Clark, Monday's headache had become Tuesday's hangover.

After Mr Parker confirmed the accuracy of the allegations in the Investigate story on Monday afternoon, he was relieved of his portfolio of Attorney-General, a role incompatible with breaking the law, however minor the offence.

The punishment was sold by the Beehive as befitting the crime. It was the bare minimum.

Sometime on Monday evening, Labour's anger at yet another personal attack on a Cabinet minister gave way to more detached analysis.

The Prime Minister and senior colleagues dispassionately assessed what might happen next if Mr Parker remained a minister. He faced a possible prosecution. He could end up being banished from Parliament.

Unlike Mr Benson-Pope's alleged indiscretions, Mr Parker's offences were recent - making it more difficult to defend hanging on to him. Above all, the Opposition would hound him non-stop until he went.

However, in politics, nothing happens in isolation.

No-one is going to admit it, but Mr Parker is also the fall guy for Mr Benson-Pope's mistakes and Labour's blushes over election spending.

After Mr Parker spoke in Parliament during yesterday's snap debate forced by the Opposition on his resignation, Labour MPs gave him a standing ovation as he marked his return to the obscurity of the backbenches after just 5 months in the Cabinet limelight.

It was the least they could do.

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