Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Wednesday, September 2, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: A Little Mental Arithmetic — At Last—A Policy

The Dominion, Wednesday, September 2, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: A Little Mental Arithmetic — At Last—A Policy

Really, I don't think it's altogether fair, in this bleak and wintry weather, to keep the unfortunate victims—I mean occupants—of the Ladies' Gallery, sitting aloft muffled up to their eyes (but not, of course, to their ears) listening to lukewarm eloquence from the Forbes-Nationalist benches, icy and cutting criticism from Labour-Socialist quarters, and frigid politeness from the Ministerial zone. It's enough to make our teeth c-c-chatter in our heads. Sometimes we are ruthless enough to wish that some unforeseen accident would happen to the highly up-to-date heaters situated at the back of the benches generally occupied by our Labour-Socialists, thereby causing their teeth to chatter in their heads. Because then, don't you see, their tongues would be able to.

This isn't, as you might erroneously suppose, "sheer windictiveness406" on our part. On the contrary. Listen awhile, and we shall explain our statements in the very best Ministerial style. You remember how, less than a week ago, there was a tremendous how-d'ye-do about the Government's entirely desirable action in curtailing the time usually allowed for the prevention and cure of—I mean for the introduction and discussion of—private Bills?407 It was, if you will remember, the Labour-Socialists who were, as usual, loudest and longest in their outcry against the Government's action. Members, so we were told, had, from time immemorial, been permitted to introduce their private Bills at any old time when they felt so disposed. The Government was nothing short of a latterday Star Chamber, and was forcibly preventing the Opposition from having any say whatever in the affairs of the House. Free Parliamentary speech had become a legend dating back to the golden—or was it silver-plated?—days of the vanished past. All this sounded very hard indeed, and I, for one, wondered how the Government could be so cold, callous, and collected, as to lay low, say nuffin', and simply keep on its own sweet way.408

But bide a wee, and all things shall be made clear unto you.409 Yesterday, just out of morbid curiosity I made a little list of the members who spoke during the afternoon sitting. There were in all nine speeches, two of which originated from the Reform benches; the remaining seven were delivered by our poor, downtrodden, oppressed, suppressed, but not yet depressed Labour-Socialists. I think, ladies and gentlemen, that we can safely go to sleep to-night feeling that, even if the Government is getting its way, the Opposition is having its say—and, as our American cousins put it, then some.

You may ask who, in the name of all that's wonderful, started a mere unmathematical woman working out problems in mental arithmetic such as the foregoing. Well, I will be frank with you. It was410 Mr. McKeen.411 Mr. McKeen, the member for Wellington South, hails, as his name would seem to imply, from Bonnie Scotland, the home of the wild bluebell, the tame bannock, the thistle, and—er—other things. I wouldn't say that his birthplace was Aberdeen, and, on the other hand, I wouldn't say that it was not. But the quality which most impresses me about the member for Wellington South is his tremendous earnestness—an excellent thing in a Parliamentarian, and very, very rare. For example, Mr. McKeen looked as serious and quite as sober as a judge when, in discussing the Arbitration Court, he declared, "I am not criticising the Judge of the Court at all. I am criticising the judgments, some of which are most unreasonable."412 Doesn't that delightful logic rather tickle your risibilities? Would some kind person be good enough to lead Mr. McKeen firmly but gently into a quiet corner, and there, without undue severity, explain to him that a Judge who passes unreasonable judgments must of necessity be an unreasonable Judge, and that to call a Judge unreasonable is distinctly to criticise him?

However, Mr. McKeen's little statement was quite in accordance with the very finest traditions of Parliament, where, as everyone knows, one may say that one's opponent's policy is a policy of murder, thuggism, Sabbath-breaking and petty larceny; that a Government swam into office on a sea of tears shed by widows and orphans, and retained above-mentioned office by consistent policy of bribery and corruption which shrank not even from the extreme measure of securing the poor man's vote by standing him glasses of—shall we say ginger-pop? One may, and quite frequently does say all this, and more, but woe betide the rash individual who so much as whispers that a particular opponent isn't, in some respect, any better than he ought to be. For such the Sergeant-at-Arms lies in wait, and the Mace takes on the capacity of a bludgeon. Mr. Lysnar was guilty of a faux pas in this direction, and look what's happened to him. A Commission has been sitting on him at every possible opportunity ever since.

But, dear me, here we've been getting highly excited all over nothing at all, and quite forgetting to explain the intimate connection between Mr. McKeen and mental arithmetic. Well, it's like this. Somehow or other the hon. member's feet strayed on the slippery path of arbitration awards, and before anyone could stop him he had produced a stump of indelible pencil and worked out just how much higher the high cost of living was now than in 1914, and how inadequate the Government's wage increases were to cope with the situation.413 By the time he had quite finished Mr. Nosworthy, Minister of Finance and other things, was looking quite giddy. And as any observant person will agree, that's a rare thing for Mr. Nosworthy.

Hurrah! What do you think has happened since I saw you last? The Forbes-Nationalist Party has been and gone and got a policy. Not a life insurance policy, though, as you were saying, that might be a very suitable precaution for the honourable gentlemen to take—times are hard, you know, times are hard—but a real, live political policy. The policy, which was first announced by the Honourable Mr. Buddo, consists of just two words. And the words, dear friends, are these: "Cheer up!" Well, I do think that that's by far the most sensible thing I've heard from the Forbes-Nationalist benches during the whole of the long time (or does it only seem long?) that I have sat in the Ladies' Press Gallery. The policy is just the very thing that the Forbes-Nationalists need. If ever a party wanted cheering up—however, let that pass.

But I wonder, don't you, who has been putting this "Cheer up!" idea into the innocent minds of Mr. Forbes and his friends? I'll tell you my theory on the matter. Mr. Forbes has been reading "Pollyanna."414 Of course you are acquainted with Pollyanna? She was a little girl who ran wild about the countryside in a chronic condition of "being glad." She was glad under any circumstances, even if the cat ate the canary and died of ptomaine poisoning, and the lodger went off without paying the rent. I think that somebody has lent the manual of her life and works to Mr[.] Forbes. Anyhow, I can vouch for this as an absolute fact. Mr. Forbes, usually known as "the knight of the mournful countenance," smiled not once nor twice, but six times, during the course of the evening. Twice he was heard to remark, in a loud, hearty voice, "Cheer up!"415 Once I think that he followed up his maxim by remarking "What ho, me hearties!" To be sure, this sort of thing takes practice, and once or twice Mr. Forbes did look as if his smile was going to drop off and break, but still—perseverance, perseverance, and yet more perseverance! There's absolutely nothing like it. Already Sir Maui416 Pomare is looking across at Mr. Forbes as if wondering whether there had been anything the matter with that last cup of tea.

Last night the House spent hours—it seemed years—in consideration of the land policy—past, present, and future.417 It appears that our land policy covers a multitude of sinners, and that the chief trouble with our Acts is that they won't act. From what I can gather—which really, I frankly admit, isn't much—there are three definite land policies for us to bother our hard-working intelligences over—the Freehold, the Leasehold, and the Usehold. You pays your money and you takes your choice—but whatever happens, you pays your money.418

The difference between the freehold (sponsored by the Government) and the lease-in-perpetuity, favoured by Mr. Forbes, if not by Mr. Wilford, may seem to our untrained intelligences a little fine. Under the freehold, you can hold your land, if by some unforeseen chance you happen to have any, for ever and a day. A lease-in-perpetuity entitles you to a mere holiday trip of nine hundred and ninety-nine years. The Opposition seemed very worried about what was going to happen at the end of that time—but really, dear readers, since it is quite probable that by that time you and I, and even Mr. Forbes will not be here, why worry?

406 This phrase is a reference to Dickens’s Tony Weller. See the column for 6 August 1925.

407 See the column for 26 August 1925.

408 Cf. Joel Chandler Harris, "The Wonderful Tar-Baby," from Brer Rabbit.

Tar-Baby aint sayin' nothing, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

Brer Rabbit, ed. Marcus Crouch (London: Penguin, 1977), p. 13. See also the columns for 2 July 1925 and 29 July 1925, and Robin Hyde, Journalese (Auckland: National Printing Company, 1934), p. 37.

409 "Bide a wee" is a Scottish phrase meaning "stay a while." For other uses of Scots dialect, see the columns for 4 July 1925, 16 July 1925 and 22 August 1925.

410 Dominion: as.

411 See Hansard 207: 851-54.

412 Cf. McKeen: "…the decision in many cases—I am not, Mr. Speaker, criticizing the Judge of the Court at all at the present moment, but merely the judgments of the Court—has been most unreasonable" (Hansard 207: 851).

413 See Hansard 207: 852.

414 Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter, was published in 1913.

415 “The knight of the mournful countenance” is sobriquet for Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Although Hansard does not record the interjection “Cheer up,” it was noted by another journalist. See “Political Notes,” Evening Post, 2 September 1925, p. 5.

416 Dominion: Mauri

417 See the debate on the Land and Income Tax Amendment Bill (Hansard 208: 35-46).

418 The phrase "You pays your money and you takes your choice" appeared first in Punch in 1846.It refers to a call to customers made by Cockney stall-holders.See A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, ed. Eric Partridge, rev. Paul Beale, 2nd ed. (London, Melbourne and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985).