Labour’s Caucus is to meet this week – probably virtually — to discuss what is fast becoming the Sharma crisis.
With more bizarre posts late yesterday from the renegade Labour MP Gaurav Sharma alleging more bullying within the Labour caucus, that crisis is starting to get surreal and out of control.
A caucus meeting can only mean one thing; that his future within it is now on the line. The Caucus has the power to suspend him, which it last used in 2010 when it suspended former Minister Chris Carter over a letter he released publicly critical of the leader, Phil Goff.
In many ways, the issue before the Caucus meeting with respect to Sharma will be similar to the Carter issue; the charge against him will not be so much what he said as that he elected to go public.
Ardern clearly hinted at that yesterday.
“What’s black and white in our rules is the expectation that when there are issues that they’re raised with whips, the leader or people nominated by the leader,” she said.
“And then if those issues remain unresolved, of course, Caucus can be the ultimate place to raise concerns.
“So that’s very clear.
“Those avenues have not always been used in this case.
“When it comes to what happened weeks next, that’s not something for me to predetermine here.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the House, there are now allegations that a National MP has endorsed a Voices of Freedom right-wing supporter in a local government election and there are suggestions that suspended MP, Sam Uffindell, was actually hoping to follow on Todd Muller in the Bay of Plenty seat.
Ironically Muller is now “babysitting” Uffindell as he faces intense public scrutiny over allegations that he too was a bully.
However, the timing of Uffindell’s apology to the boy he bullied at King’s would seem to have been uncomfortably close to the announcement by Muller last June that he was going to retire at the next election.
That would have opened the seat up for an ambitious would-be MP like Uffindell.
Most of Muller’s Bay of Plenty electorate is actually urban Tauranga.
But last December, Muller rescinded his decision and then luck came Uffindell’s way when Simon Bridges elected to retire in March.
National is also being questioned over one of its MPs, East Coast Bays MP Erica Stanford, endorsing gym-owner Gregg Walden as part of the “Backing the Bays” four-person team standing for the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board in the upcoming local body elections.
Walden is an anti-vaxer and supporter of Voices for Freedom.
An email to POLITIK from “Geoff F” says Walden’s Facebook page is “a treasure trove of propaganda spreading anti-vax, anti-mandate and homophobia.”
But National’s issues are essentially housekeeping issues, relatively easily managed within its Caucus.
Labour’s problem is that Gaurav Sharma is going public on an almost daily basis with yet more charges against both the Prime Minister and the former Chief Whip.
The Hamilton West MP is keeping up a barrage of social media posts highly critical of Ardern and her Chief of Staff, Raj Nahna, and particularly critical of former Chief Whip, Kieran McAnulty.
His latest contributions claim that one “bullied” MP sat crying in his office for three hours while numerous MPs were seeking fake Covid certificates from him so they could avoid coming to Parliament and thus being bullied.
Sharma is being cheered on in his posts by a number of people with Young National connections and the right-wing blogger Cameron Slater.
His latest post includes a number of screenshots of Twitter tweets that he says are from MPs whose names he cropped to protect their privacy.
“Every day, I wake up wondering if I’m going to be in trouble,” says one.
“Today is rest day despite having lots on. Non stressful day though!”
That is replied to:
“Yeah, man. This place is so bad to work at. So much talk about kindness but none shown.”
More bizarrely is a post from someone he says is an MP, apparently trying to get advice on how to fake Covid so they don’t have to go into Parliament.
“I want to say to Kieran (McAnulty, former Chief Whip) tonight that I’ve caught a cold off the boy and therefore I’m not well and off to get a test,” it says.
“What are the steps for me so I don’t f–ck things up. How long do I have to sit this out etc? I want to avoid going in on Wednesday and Thursday.”
Sharma does not offer dates for the tweets, so it is not possible to confirm that MPs were actually in Wellington at the time – given that for long periods last year many, sometimes all MPs, were not in Wellington because of Covid.
Sharma says he gave these tweets to Nahna, who, it seems, did not pass them on to the prime Minister.
“Whilst a member of my staff was approached about six months ago, I have never been,” she said yesterday.
That is a confirmation that the tweets exist, but it is not a confirmation that they came from another MP.
Even if they did, bad-mouthing caucus members in private is not a hanging offence in politics. It is when those comments go public with the author’s name attached that there is a problem.
Ardern was keen to point out that subsequent to the Francis report into bullying of staff at Parliament, more attention was being paid to how staff were treated.
“Is this a tough place to be? Yes,” she said.
“And that’s why we have ensured that in this new intake, we have professional supervision on offer.
“We have management coaching on offer, professional development on offer.
“And I can tell you that is a vast improvement on what I’ve seen in this place over the last ten years.”
However, one party, ACT, has not taken up the training for its staff, preferring to do its own.
It has a training session this weekend and has organised its staff in an open plan office, and all employment contracts are with the Caucus as an entity rather than individual MPs.
ACT Leader, David Seymour, told POLITIK that not having MPs in offices down long corridorsmade a difference.
Seymour is also opposed to the appointment of a Parliamentary Standards Commission and says the idea represents a loss of faith in democracy.
MPs should be judged by voters, not an official; he told POLITIK.
For Labour and National, that is the problem. Voters may well ask whether a political party that has rogue MPs is ready to run the country.
That is why the political future of both Sharma and Uffindell does not look promising.