Gaurav Sharma must prepare for a lonely future

Dr Gaurav Sharma faces political life in isolation (Photo from Facebook)

Peter Wilson
Wellington, August 20, 2022

As Labour MP Gaurav Sharma faces almost certain expulsion and a lonely future as an independent in Parliament, he is continuing to go public with explosive claims about the Party and the Prime Minister.

After he is expelled from Labour’s Caucus on Tuesday (August 23, 2022),  as he almost certainly will be, the MP will have just two options: He can stay on as an independent until the next election, or call it quits and resign from Parliament.

The West Hamilton MP was suspended from Caucus on Tuesday after going public last week with a litany of complaints and claims of “rampant bullying” within the Party. The vote was unanimous.

Mediation offer rejected

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said what he had done was grounds for expulsion but his colleagues had wanted to give him a second chance. He was offered mediation, with his status to be reviewed in December.

Sharma rejected mediation and gave an interview to Newshub on Thursday (August 18, 2022).

He repeated all his bullying allegations and then went even further – he accused the Prime Minister and her office of a cover-up and said that the suspension had been a ‘Kangaroo Court’ decision. Ardern’s office reacted with a statement on Thursday night saying that the Caucus would meet on Tuesday “to consider a motion to expel Gaurav Sharma.”

Labour’s handling of this has been far from exemplary.

Ahead of the formal Caucus meeting on Tuesday when the suspension decision was put to a vote, there was a secret meeting on Monday evening, to which Sharma was not invited.

He was informed of the formal meeting on Tuesday but did not attend.

Gaurav Sharma can force a by-election in Hamilton West (RNZ Photo by Leah Tebbutt)

The Secret Meeting

He was inadvertently informed that it was taking place, by one of the participants, and subsequently had a phone conversation with another Labour MP who told him the Monday night meeting had sealed his fate.

“It was all pre-determined,” the MP said.

Sharma has given Newshub a recording of the conversation, so, there is no doubt about what was said. Newshub has not identified the MP.

Ardern told the media after the formal Caucus meeting that there had been no pre-determination, and the secret meeting was held because Labour MPs did not trust Sharma and wanted to be able to talk freely about the situation.

After the Newshub interview went to air, Ardern’s office described the phone conversation as a misrepresentation.

The full interview is on Newshub’s website.

Labour’s Workshop details

In it, he does something the Party would consider unforgivable – he gives details of a workshop for 2020 intake MPs about how to handle information in the Election year.

Apart from not saying anything to which the Prime Minister might have to react, they were told ways to avoid the Official Information Act – “how to talk to somebody without having a track record of it so nobody could track it down the road.”

He was asked in the interview what he would do if he was expelled, and he replied that he wanted to continue serving his constituents.

Sharma is a doctor and was a GP before going to Parliament. He could decide to serve his constituents by opening up his clinic again.

If he stays on he will have a lonely life as an inconsequential MP without a party, not participating in any decision-making and being cold-shouldered by his former colleagues.

Labour Party’s former Chief Whip Kieran McAnulty (RNZ Photo by Samuel Rillstone)

His political career ended before it even got off the ground. That is if he ever wanted one, and it is not obvious that he did.

He could decide that he has had enough and resign from Parliament, forcing a by-election, which Labour would not want. If he is out for revenge, that could be a way to get it.

The seat had been held since 2008 by National and was considered to be fairly safe. Sharma won it on the back of Labour’s 2020 landslide.

Advantage for National

Since then, the Party’s support has slumped and given that by-elections are nearly always bad for governments anyway, National would very likely grab it back.

There has been speculation that Labour could use the so-called waka-jumping legislation to force Sharma out of Parliament, something that Ardern said has not been discussed.

It has that option if he continues to be dangerous, but although it would take him off the stage it would not necessarily shut him up and the result would be the same as a resignation – a by-election Labour could and probably would lose.

Sharma’s problems started with staffing issues in his Parliamentary office. Complaints were laid against him by staff who had quit, Labour’s whips got involved, Sharma reportedly refused to be mentored and the Parliamentary Service froze appointments.

Culture of bullying

One former staffer who spoke to the Herald said there was a culture of bullying in Sharma’s office that was so bad they needed counselling.

Ardern said the staffing freeze was resolved on 10 August – the day before Sharma went public with the “rampant bullying” article published in the Herald.

When his claims were disputed, Sharma published a 2600-word statement on his Facebook page. “I stand by my claims that I have been subjected to ongoing bullying by the Parliamentary Service and the Labour Whips,” he said.

The Parliamentary Service has since confirmed Sharma has one staffer working for him. It had offered to facilitate further appointments but no progress had been made on that.

That is not what he was suspended for. It went way beyond the relatively trivial matter of staff management.

It was the way he went public with his complaints and the way he targeted former Chief Whip Kieran McAnulty and current Chief Whip Duncan Webb.

It was also the way he claimed other MPs had been bullied, something Ardern said she was unaware of. The unanimous vote to suspend him does not stack up with a bunch of unhappy victims backing Sharma. That is what he claimed, saying that he had hundreds of pages of evidence and if other victims told their stories their accounts would fill a couple of books.

The Caucus would also have been intensely frustrated about the timing of Sharma’s assault on his own party.

The Scandal on the other side

Labour MPs had been contentedly watching National deal with the Sam Uffindell scandal, knowing it was generating a great deal of negative media coverage for the Opposition.

Within minutes of the Herald publishing Sharma’s astonishing article, any advantage gained from National’s woes was wiped out.

The Sharma story took over, “rampant bullying” was a great angle, Ardern was forced into damage control and had to call a Caucus meeting.

The tables had been turned, big time.

Throughout the Sharma saga, the MP has appeared to show amazing naivety about what the consequences of his actions would be. He did not seem to have any conception of the brutality of Party politics, and what happened to MPs when their Caucus turned against them.

Stuff Columnist Ben Thomas, a former National Party Press Secretary, said that Sharma was now finding out what real bullying meant, and had an explanation for the MP’s strange ignorance of political reality.

“Labour’s 2020 ‘red tide’ washed the unsuspecting Sharma up on the shores of Parliament on an unlikely electorate win. He may as well have been transported to the wonderful land of Oz,” he said.

Thomas said that the unusual thing about Sharma was “an almost complete indifference to a political career and a lack of understanding of internal discipline and convention.”

After the Herald published Sharma’s first article, Labour set out to “defang and then destroy him,” Thomas said.

Parliament was in recess this week and hence there was not much else going on.

ACT Party Leader David Seymour (RNZ Photo by Angus Dreaver)

ACT’s new Crime Policy

ACT Leader David Seymour took the opportunity to fill the gap.

He launched a new crime policy which would give police the power to deal out swift penalties to burglars.

Announcing it outside an Auckland superette which had been ram-raided, Seymour said that the Police should be able to issue infringement notices with minimal paperwork, RNZ reported.

“We want to liberate our local cops from the paperwork and bureaucracy so that they can deal with these kids. If a cop catches a kid shoplifting, we say: ‘We’ve gotcha, here’s your punishment.’

Seymour has backing from Retail NZ and the Newmarket and Parnell business associations.

Kalpesh Patel, the ram-raided superette owner, said the policy was a long time coming.

“We have been screaming for a law change. If something has not been working for that many years, it has to be changed,” he said.

Parliament last week repealed the three strikes law, an ACT Party initiative.

Last month, a Police report observed that there had been a 400% increase in ram raids over the past five years.

Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament’s press gallery, 22 years as NZPA’s political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire. The above article has been published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz 

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