The American journalist and satirist H.L.Mencken didn’t think much of politicians. Among his observations:
“If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.”
Most of all, he questioned the honesty of politicians.
“Looking for an honest politician is like looking for an ethical burglar.”
“All politicians are liars and blowhards and if you think otherwise, you’re part of the problem.”
Alf – naturally – insists he is the exception that proves this rule. He also knows there’s a remarkably high proportion of people prone to fibbing, when it suits their agendas, in the ranks of our politicains.
This makes it all the more amusing that – among the prohibitions in the debating chamber – there’s a rule that says you can’t call another MP a liar.
It’s a bit like being denied the right to say a banker’s interest rates are too high.
But that’s the rule behind the stroppy Trevor Mallard’s problems this week, when he was thrown out of the House by the Speaker. He wasn’t missed. And he deserved the penalty.
Mr Mallard was thrown out on Tuesday for refusing to apologise after calling out, “Your nose is growing”, to Mr Key.
He reacted angrily to Speaker Lockwood Smith’s decision to eject him, shouting, “That’s outrageous”, before turning at the door and calling, “That’s the worst decision you’ve ever made.”
Later, Mr Mallard wrote a blog repeating his assertion Mr Key was not telling the truth and describing Dr Smith’s decision as the “most blatantly biased decision of the year”.
He also said Labour was considering moving a motion of no confidence in the Speaker – but later said other Labour MPs had since spoken to him “and we have decided to wait for a better example”.
Questioning the impartiality of the Speaker can get an MP into big trouble – a contempt of Parliament rap, for example.
Mr Mallard’s initial calls of “your nose is growing” were sparked by Mr Key’s refusal to answer Labour MP Pete Hodgson’s questions about his reasons for losing faith in minister Richard Worth, who resigned.
The PM had objected to Mr Mallard’s comment, saying he was “accusing me of being a liar”. Parliament’s rules forbid questioning the truthfulness of a member.
Alf, naturally, accepts that the PM had cause to complain about Mallard.
But it’s a silly rule and a scandalously self-serving one.
Its absurd consequence is that an MP can’t tell the truth by righly pointing out somone else has fibbed.
Mencken would not be amused. He would be outraged.