ELECTORAL BOARD COCK-UP

News that the Electoral Board cocked up some Auckland region candidate info’ brochures and mixed up candidates data and photos, brought back an amusing memory. That was a libel action I was on the receiving end of 40 years back.

This eventuated after I wrote about the 1979 Rangitikei by‑election which resulted in the mad Social Creditors then leader, Bruce Beetham entering Parliament.

Among the candidates was a soaking wet 26 year old bearded Massey University lecturer, representing the Values Party. The Values lot were a 1970s forerunner of the Greens. Among their better known policies was a zero population growth advocacy.

I wrote of their candidate that he was “somewhat of a whisky priest in terms of their zero population policy, having fathered five children while still only 25.”

It transpired that in fact the candidate was both single and childless, no surprise on either count once I saw him. Anyway, he duly sued me for libel. That mistake came about when political journo Spiro Zavos rang to tell me of this seeming double standard, Spiro having just read this in the Christchurch Press. As we later learnt, the newspaper had cocked‑up in their coverage of the bi‑election and as with the Electoral Board in Auckland recently, mixed up the candidates’ photos and bio’ notes.

In his statement of claim the plaintiff argued I’d accused him of hypocrisy.

In fact if I’d wanted to do that I would have, but instead I was merely amused by the state of affairs, thus my use of the term “whisky priest”.

That originated from Graham Greene’s 1940 classic The Power and the Glory. The story was based on the attempts in the impoverished southern Mexico state of Tabasco in the early 1930s, to destroy the Catholic church. Greene’s fictional priest, the last remaining, was being hunted by the army and was on the run. He was a “whisky priest” as he imbibed and had fathered a child for which both “sins” he was perpetually remorseful. It’s a wonderful term meaning human weakness in not living up to ones strongly held beliefs but still subscribing to them. In short, not hypocrisy, just human frailty.

So the debate raged in Court.

The outcome; I won, for in the course of the trial we uncovered the plaintiff’s appalling actual hypocrisy. Specifically, following the newspaper’s cock‑up, it had all been corrected the following day and treated by the candidate as a great joke, which in the circumstances it was. But suing me offered the prospect of a payday, the wrong assumption being the jury would have a crack at me. In fact a journalist mate was a friend of the Jury Foreman who told him after the trial they’d been appalled by the plaintiff’s double standards.

Such events certainly make life interesting. These sort of Electoral Board errors are only human. In fact I believe they’ve done an outstanding job when I look at the excellent candidates info’ brochure I received in my city.

 

 

One Comment

And my copy of Bob’s “New Zealand the way I want it” (1978) includes a pasted addendum on the dust jacket to the effect that the Values candidate in the Rangitikei by-election was not, as claimed, a whisky priest”! 😂

Is a good book, and despite the passing of over 40 years, and the economic reforms of 1984-91, still very relevant. Including the analysis of the National (“Power before principle”), Labour (“merchants of the little people”) and Values/Green (“Modern Day Children’s Crusade”) parties.

Liked by 1 person

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