Labour Party leader Phil Goff should have learned a harsh
lesson about authority from the tragicomic events of the past
48 hours: when the knives are out, leaders must strike first.
He should be regretting that, when Chris Carter's reluctant
apology over the expenses rort finally emerged, rather than
merely demoting him he did not suspend him outright, allowing
him back only with the lowest rank in the caucus.
National's similarly erratic MP and present Minister, Maurice
Williamson, was correctly dealt with by his then leader, Bill
English, after his constant criticism, in private and in
public, of Mr English's ability.
He was duly suspended and sent to the back benches, only to
be reinstated upon a change of party leadership.
Messrs Williamson and Carter have one perceived fatal
characteristic in common: petulance.
In the latter's case, it has been a most obvious deficiency
for some weeks.
For instance, he has again been found to have taken an
overseas trip without his leader's authority.
The flaws in his character - most evident in his attitude
towards expenses and domination - have surely been confirmed.
On that basis alone he is not the kind of member of
Parliament worthy of the Labour Party which, however
tenuously these days, still purports to represent the
less-well off in the community.
The party will be well rid of him.
He claims his motive for delivering an unsigned letter to
media representatives seeking to foment a coup against his
leader was simply because of his belief that Mr Goff could
not lift Labour to victory in next year's election.
He also believed a majority of the caucus privately held the
But he was unable - or unwilling - to nominate an alternative
leader, or even one who might command a majority, if a vote
in the caucus was taken.
The MP whose name is most bandied about is David Cunliffe,
who has categorically denied the ambition.
There are others, but none is thought to be prepared to
challenge Mr Goff until after the election.
The most likely outcome of this week's events, therefore, is
the exact opposite of Mr Carter's presumed hopes: Mr Goff
will find himself with a clear path to the election - but
with his political opponents, especially the National Party,
making the most of his former colleague's disloyalty and its
As for Mr Carter himself, he seems to have recognised that
his actions have ended a political career.
It is to be wondered whether, subconsciously, this was his
desire all along.
He was first elected to the Te Atatu seat in 1993, failed to
win re-election (to Waipareira) in 1996 but stayed high
enough on the list, then won an expanded Te Atatu in 1999.
He was a devoted supporter of Helen Clark and she
reciprocated by making him a minister.
But the descent from cabinet minister to the powerless ranks
of Opposition can be a very difficult fall to accept by some
ambitious individuals, and after so many years in Parliament
within the government, it is obvious Mr Carter felt the
change in his circumstances to be less than tolerable.
In both government and opposition, he was and is a prolific
spender on overseas trips, often with his partner, Peter
Kaiser, and as recently as Thursday night still appeared
resentful at having to justify this continuing extravagance.
He has in the past implied that he was being "picked on" for
being a homosexual, a clue, perhaps, to the state of his
He has provided plenty of reasons for the Labour Party's
ruling council to expel him when it next meets, and if it
does so, it seems likely Mr Carter will remain in Parliament
as an independent MP until the next election.
He won a majority in 2008 of 5298 and Labour will be
reluctant to see that safety margin eroded - National, after
all, topped the party vote in the seat- so it will try to
select a strong and well-known candidate.
Here, another difficulty for the party may arise, for Mr
Kaiser is the Te Atatu electorate committee chairman and
heads a team which has been acutely supportive of his
In broader terms, Labour faces a similar problem as it did in
the post-Mike Moore era, where both Michael Cullen and Helen
Clark sought the leadership in an atmosphere of "any
alternative will do - things are so bad".
While the caucus may be satisfied with Mr Goff for now -
assuming Mr Carter's treachery is his alone - he has only a
few months to try to lift Labour's support out of the trough
of 30% or thereabouts in which it is mired.
His former colleague's poisonous pen has made that task much
more difficult - probably Mr Carter's real desire.