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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Friday, July 31, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: The Spring Feeling and the Taxation Bogey

The Dominion, Friday, July 31, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: The Spring Feeling and the Taxation Bogey

From the very beginning of this beautiful civilisation of ours, since the days when long-haired, lop-eared,263 and lack-adaisical poets first began to squabble about every topic under the sun, and not a few under the moon, there has been considerable debate upon the question of just what and just which is the authentic odour of spring. That faint, subtle, but unmistakable perfume commissioned to tell an impatient world that Winter, though he may have as many death-beds as our rich old aunt with the rheumatics, is none the less on his very last legs. Some hold that this scent of Springtime comes with the first violets; others favour lilies of the valley (sixpence a stalk, if you please, ma'am). But my own private and personal belief is that the scent that all the world's a-seeking through our dank and dismal winter-time comes when the first real sunshine of the year shines down upon new-cut grass.

Someone had been mowing the lawns in the Parliamentary grounds at an early hour on the morning of the day before yesterday. I don't know who did it. Perhaps, when he's quite sure that nobody but the early worms are present to be scandalised at his informality, Mr. Speaker himself takes a turn with the lawn-mower—just as a change from the eternal pomp and ceremony of Parliamentary life. Or perhaps, on the other hand, he doesn't. That wig and gown may be sewn on. Anyhow, I entered the House feeling that nothing mattered very much. Springtime was definitely back again.

Just as a perfectly clear and indisputable proof of the mental, moral, and physical condition of the House on the afternoon in question, I may tell you that never once, during the course of the proceedings, did Mr. Speaker feel called upon to remark in pained, not to say scandalised tones, "Order! Order! Order! If there is any more of this I will name the member."

Let us digress for one moment. Did you know that in Parliament being "named" by Mr. Speaker is quite as awful a punishment as being solemnly stood in the corner by your school-marm? A member who has been "named" by the Speaker is never quite the same afterwards. He roams forlornly about the corridors, endeavouring to persuade total strangers to call him Smith. This is all very sad. But a member can, if he feels that he really must, descend to even greater depths of infamy. He can be marched out of the House under escort, with the Sergeant-at-Arms keeping step behind him.

I suppose that most of you have frequently wondered, in language more or less picturesque, just what and just why taxation really is. A totally Independent member, who happens, more by luck than good management, to sit on the Reform benches, cleared up that little matter during the afternoon. It appears that after all taxation is for our own good, and that it hurts the Government ever so much more than it hurts us. (Remember how your father, slipper in hand, used to say that when you were a boy?) "Taxes," according to the hon[.] member, "are the compulsory savings of the people."264 You see, whereas we, being lost to all sense of civic responsibility, would, if we had no City Fathers to guide us, squander our surplus incomes (if we had any) on new hats for our wives, new steam-engines and submarines for our infant phenomenons,265 and new—let's think of something sensible—new tobacco-pouches for ourselves, taxation painlessly relieves us of some part of the above-mentioned surplus income, and invests it, all safe and snug, in roads, schools and hospitals for our especial benefit. It's true that we, being subject to various little idiosyncrasies266 of taste, might prefer our roads without potholes in them … but we must not complain—no, we mustn't complain! Think what things would be if Labour-Socialists had the taxing of us!

Let me speak in private, for just one moment, to the feminine section of the community. You know how, every six months or so, your husband descends upon your nice tidy kitchen exactly like a wolf on the fold, and demands, in loud and ungentlemanly tones, to see your accounts?267 And you also know how, after he has run his eye, like a hatpin, clean through your butcher's bill, he sits back in his chair, and proceeds, with a dreamy reflective look on his face, to count up the number of pork sausages that he has eaten during the past year or so? And he always makes it wrong, quite wrong, doesn't he? The only thing for a lone and unprotected female to do under such circumstances is, as you've probably discovered, to burst into tears, call him a brute, sweep him out of the kitchen, have hysterics if ever he presumes to approach the topic again, and—go on buying your pork sausages. That, if268 I mistake not, will be the Government's policy towards the critics of its Budget. The Opposition's financial experts are just a little too financially expert. Their speeches—particularly that of Mr. Sullivan—reminded me of the dear old days when the younger generation were held enthralled by a gentleman with a silk topper and peculiarly baggy sleeves, who could, marvellous to relate, produce sovereigns from any place that you cared to mention.269 But "curiouser and curiouser"270 those sovereigns simply disappeared when one attempted to pocket them. Funny, wasn't it?

Later on in the same day—or, to be perfectly exact, in the evening—I happened to be strolling down the outer corridor271 which leads past the House of Representatives. This corridor has sound-proof walls, somewhere in the region of three feet in thickness. Notwithstanding which, I distinctly heard an excited voice calling somebody—presumably the Government—"financial vultures."272 (Do you know what I'd do if I were a Government and somebody called me a financial vulture? I'd simply flap my wings disdainfully and fly away. Even a vulture has its limits.) At first I thought that the Voice was an hallucination, but later decided that it must be Mr. Langstone. The hon. gentleman has a voice that carries like a police whistle, and you all know how that—but no, of course, you don't, do you? Well, if you really want to know, a police whistle carries like Mr. Langstone's voice.

I tiptoed to the door of the Gallery and stood there hesitating—but not hesitating very hard. My better self told me that I ought to go in and listen—yes, positively listen—to Mr. Langstone's speech.

"Would you?" I enquired of an orderly.

"I would not," he replied, with that crisp decision that won the Battle of Waterloo.

So I didn't: and that, ladies and gentlemen, was that.

However, just as a sop to Cerberus273 (signifying my conscience), I sat out the whole of yesterday afternoon. It really wasn't such a hard penance as you might think to look at it. Business, for once, was brisk. All along the Government lines ran the stealthy whisper:

"Hang out our banners on the castle wall! The cry is still 'They come!' "274 By "they" I mean terse, crisp, and succinct little criticisms of the Government.

The member for Egmont started the afternoon's proceedings by protesting that the entire time of the House is occupied in convincing Labour-Socialists and Wilford-Nationalists that the Government simply thrives on no-confidence motions, which, amusing though they may be, are just a little hampering to the country's business.275 Mr. Sidey's amendment, you know, was moved because the proposed fusion between Reformers and Liberals was, temporarily at least, short-circuited. The member for Egmont gently pointed out that one reason for the failure was that the Liberals wanted only five seats in the Cabinet.276 So Liberal, wasn't it?

Then something happened which proved that one never can tell in Parliament, or, if one can, one mustn't. Mr. Wilford, who is, like his party, looking a mere shadow of his former robust self, arose and announced to the House that he was tired of committee-rooms, masks, pass-words, and counter-signs, and was quite prepared to allow the Prime Minister to take over the Nationalist Party lock, stock, and empty barrel.277 But the Prime Minister is already such a busy man…. Besides, I've got a sort of feeling that there's a catch in it somewhere, haven't you? The situation rather reminds me of that sentimental old ballad which we used to sing in the days when we were very young. Don't you remember it?

"Do not trust him, gentle lady,
Though his voice be low and sweet—
Heed not him who kneels before you,
Meekly pleading at your feet."278

And so on and so forth. I've forgotten the rest, except that the lady was finally convinced. Which is, in all probability, just what will happen to the Government.

263 Dominion: lop-earned.

264 F. J. Rolleston argued that "a man who has to pay high taxation probably pays it out of money which he would otherwise have expended…. The way [taxation] is finalized is that it is a means of compulsory saving via the Treasury" (Hansard 206: 885).

265 The "infant phenomenon" was a name given to a young girl in Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby. See also the column for 17 September 1925.

266 Dominion: idiosnycrasies.

267 Cf. Lord Byron, "The Destruction of Semnacherib," line 1.

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold.

The Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann, vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986). See also the columns for 9 July 1925, 24 July 1925 and 1 October 1928.

268 Dominion: an.

269 See Sullivan's speech (Hansard 206: 887-92).

270 Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 16.

271 Dominion: orridor.

272 Langstone was actually referring to financiers and industry when he said that "[n]o country will be safe so long as these financial vultures, these commercial crooks, are allowed to rob and steal from the people in such a wanton manner as has taken place in New Zealand during the last few years," although he blamed the Government for allowing this situation to arise (Hansard 206: 904).

273 In Greek and Latin mythology the proper name of the watch-dog which guarded the entrance of the infernal regions, represented as having three heads. Used allusively, esp. in phrase, to give a sop to Cerberus (so as to stop his mouths for the moment: cf. Æneid VI. 417) (Oxford English Dictionary). See also the column for 9 September 1925.

274 William Shakespeare, Macbeth, act V, scene v, lines 1-2.

Macbeth: Hang out our banners on the outward walls.
The cry is still 'They come.'

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 2005).

275 Hawken registered his "protest against the constant introduction of these want-of-confidence motions into the debates of this House" (Hansard 207: 4).

276 See Hansard 207: 6.

277 After much goading Wilford announced: "I am going to show what my attitude and the attitude of my party in the matter is now by abandoning secrect diplomacy and making a straightout offer across the floor of the House, which the Prime Minister might accept or reject, as he thinks fit. Here is my offer: (1) My resignation as leader of the National party; (2) the making of a new party at once in order to secure sound and stable government, with myself excluded from any portfolio; (3) the forming of a National party for national development and social betterment; (4) the matter of Cabinet portfolios to be left entirely to the Prime Minister; (5) the problems relating to candidates to be settled by mutual agreement" (Hansard 207: 9-10). See also Robin Hyde, Journalese (Auckland: National Printing Company, 1934), p. 37.

278 From "The Gypsy's Warning," a traditional folksong which exists in several variations. Ira Ford records the following version:

Trust him not, O gentle lady, though his voice be low and sweet.
Heed not him who kneels before thee softly pleading at thy feet.

Traditional Music of America (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1940), p. 378.