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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Saturday, July 11, 1925. p. 8. — Peeps at Parliament: A Fused Fusion Wire — Mr. Atmore Short-Circuited

The Dominion, Saturday, July 11, 1925. p. 8.
Peeps at Parliament: A Fused Fusion Wire — Mr. Atmore Short-Circuited

I really hadn't, at the time, the faintest intention of darkening the doors of the House of Representatives again—at least, not until that fine week-end which Mr. Bates so kindly promised us had somewhat restored my mental stamina.127 We women can stand just so much—as members will discover when the Upper House gets over its unreasonable and unseasonable prejudice against female M.P.'s. However, as I was wandering lonely as a cloud128 down the corridors, I was accosted by—no, not by a policeman—by an orderly with a clinging Scotch burr and medals three deep running all round his chest. His greeting was unusually colloquial. "Such a go," he said excitedly.

"Go where?" I replied, languid but listening—you know the style.

"In there," he answered, indicating the door of the House of Representatives with a shaking forefinger. ["]Atmore expected to move his amendment to-night, but they sprung a surprise on him, and called him up this afternoon."

"And what, may I ask," I said, "is Atmore?"

"Independent Liberal, mover of second amendment to Address-in-Reply, member for Nelson," he rattled off, viewing me with a reproachful eye.

"It's all right," I said, "if he's a Liberal I'm going. I've waited to hear a Liberal say something since—since I was a child."

"Independent Liberal," he reminded me.

"Oh, yes," I replied, "I've heard that one before."

Inside the Chamber, usually somnolent members were sitting bolt-upright, galvanised into activity. From the expression on most of their faces, I should say that they found the process exceedingly painful. And over on the Liberal benches, a man with a Sydney Cartonish129 sort of lovelock on his brow waved his hands at the Government benches, and told everybody just what he thought of them. This, I gathered, was Mr. Atmore. Mr. Atmore was justly incensed. Perhaps that was what made him so interesting. Members of Parliament, you must know, are hopelessly lost and forlorn with no notes to guide them, and Mr. Atmore, not knowing that his crowded hour of glorious strife130 was so close upon him, had left his notes at home. This was cataclysm. A lesser man than he would have blushed, stammered and fallen by the way. A greater would have composed an entirely new and highly superior brand of speech. Mr. Atmore remembered what he could of his notes, and, with the aid of the most expressive voice in the House, came gamely through his ordeal.131

We have listened (by "we" I mean the general occupants of the Ladies' Gallery), to a great deal of mysterious humbug about the Fusion question. But we don't know yet whether anybody—except ourselves, and we don't count—wants Fusion, or, if not, why not. Mr. Atmore's speech dealt with Fusion, and dealt with it in a straight-forward way. There is such a thing as touching off a skyrocket in mistake for a squib. (At least, it's frequently done in Parliament, where everyone works in the dark). Mr. Atmore is a political skyrocket. It was rather a pity that his fellow-members compelled him gently but firmly to come down to earth. He made an impressive spectacle 'way up there in the air.

Mr. Atmore thinks that we want Fusion—that we have, in fact, come to the stage where we are rudely and most unconstitutionally demanding it.132 Well, I don't know. I think that most of us think the country will contrive to muddle along somehow—which is exactly what it's always done, hasn't it? Even if the apparently impossible happened, and the Powers of Darkness—I mean the Libs. and the Lab.-Socs.—should combine themselves against Reform, even two lefts can't make a right, especially if one of them is a left-over.

If Mr. Atmore is a good speech-maker, Mr. Fraser is a better speech-breaker. For fully an hour he poured cold milk-and-water on Mr. Atmore's flame of enthusiasm.133 What did he talk about? Anything and everything except the business in hand. This is a winning little way common to most Labour-Socialist members. "I could go on like this," stated Mr. Fraser, beaming on the assembly through his spectacles, "for hours—almost interminably."134 Here someone in the gallery—it wasn't I—uttered a low moan.

Our young Labour-Socialist friend Mr. Lee took up the tale of woe (perhaps Mr. Atmore interpreted it as a tale of "Whoa"), where a beneficent135 Providence—meaning the Speaker—compelled Mr. Fraser to lay it down. Mr. Lee, leaning with graceful negligence against his desk, requested Mr. Atmore to produce the honourable scars which he acquired in the late lamented war. This Mr. Atmore, never having been there, found a little difficult. The fact that, at the time of the war Mr. Atmore was over the age limit made no difference whatever—not to Mr. Lee, anyhow.136

None of the Labour-Socialist Party can resist the temptation to have an occasional little fling at the expense of the native-born New Zealander. "Rabbits, blackberries, and thistles," stated Mr. Lee, "were born in New Zealand."137 Now, oddly enough, I always believed that rabbits, like Labour-Socialist leaders—very like some Labour-Socialist leaders—were imported into the country.138 My mistake entirely.

The bell rang at last—mercifully. With much pomp and dignity the House arose, feeling that, however indiscreet Mr. Atmore may have been, members as a whole had been successful in committing themselves to nothing. That's the great game in the House, you know. Everybody says everything they can think of, but if any other member successfully grasps a phrase or a sentence which might pin his colleague down to an absolutely definite opinion—well, that colleague is "out."

Mr. Atmore, sitting back in his chair, looked just a little old and tired. It's a sad old world for the enthusiast, my masters.139 The moral of all this is to acquire wisdom and learn to put your faith in Parliamentary procedure, which is, in plain English, the cocaine used for extracting a man's ideals.

127 Daniel Bates was Director of the New Zealand Meteorological Office from 1909-27. See also the column for 4 July 1925.

128 Cf. William Wordsworth, “I wandered lonely as a Cloud,” Poems, in Two Volumes, and Other Poems, 1800-1807, ed. Jared Curtis (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1983).

129 Sydney Carton is a character in Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities.

130 A misquotation of Thomas Osbert Mordaunt, from Verses Written During the War, 1756-1763. Hyde probably thought she was quoting Sir Walter Scott, however, who (as Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson point out in their notes to Old Mortality) was often assumed to be the author of the following lines of Mordaunt's:

Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!
To all the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name.

Old Mortality, ed. Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 350.

131 Atmore began by noting that he had been told he would not be speaking until the evening and was therefore without the papers he needed for the speech; see Hansard 206: 402.

132 Atmore noted that the fusion question "was put before the people when the present Prime Minister told them he was in favour of the Reformers and the Liberals coming together, and that he would give his delegates a free hand for that purpose. The formation of a National party was again placed before the people when the leader of the Opposition publicly stated his belief in its necessity, and it has been placed before the people many times by individual Reform speakers during their election campaigns" (Hansard 206: 402).

133 See Hansard 206: 411-19.

134 Cf. Fraser: "I could go on with similar quotations from the speeches of the honourable member [i.e. Atmore] almost interminably" (Hansard 206: 417).

135 Dominion: benificent.

136 Lee reminded the House that "[i]n one session of Parliament the leader of the Labour party asked the honourable member for Nelson, while he was speaking, 'Why did you not go to the war?' The answer was this: 'I am as physically fit as any man here, but the reason was because of the age-limit.'" (Hansard 206: 420)

137 Lee remarked that "[i]t is true that the honourable member was born in New Zealand, and it is true, Mr. Speaker, that I was also born in New Zealand, and I am very proud of New Zealand; but it is true that also here in New Zealand rabbits and blackberries and thistles, and other noxious weeds and vermin, are born, and we have to take the good with the bad—it is something we cannot help" (Hansard 206: 421).

138 Harry Holland, the Labour leader, was born in Australia and moved to New Zealand in 1912.

139 The phrase "my masters" is an echo of Kipling. See for example the story "Railway Reform in Great Britain" in The Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling, vol. 23 (New York: Ams Press, 1970). See also the column for 29 August 1925.