Don't stand so close to me
National and Act MPs may enjoying laying into David Benson-Pope, but I believe they are overestimating the sympathy of the public for their cause.
Yup there are teachers who are scumbags and bullies, and Benson-Pope may be one, but there are also children who are scumbags and bullies. Just about every teacher could tell you about an instance where they have been a victim of a false or misleading allegation lodged by a student. To give one example, I know a (female) teacher, A, who was accused of hitting a student. Given the unblemished professional record of A people were very sceptical of the tale to start with. The student later admitted that he had made it up as he didn't want to go to reading, and thought if he said his reading teacher hit him he would not have to go. Given the DBP case, could this allegation ever resurface if A stood for any sort of public office?
The Nats could find their pursuit of DBP costs them the support of just about the whole teaching profession, or for that matter any profession in the social services. People in such jobs are constantly aware of the dire professional consequences that can result from an allegation being made against them. The vast majority of people working in the social services are entirely professional and would not knowingly do anything to harm the people under their care. Whatever their politics, the coverage of the DBP saga is likely to leave many in a heightened state of awareness, and this awareness could feel stressful and uncomfortable.
Expect the shortage of male teachers to get worse next year.
To my mind the latest allegations, in themselves, are not as serious as the 'tennis ball' incident. Take away the implication of sleaze and there is nothing more than an air of triviality. When DPB says he opened the door to the shower room to give the students a hurry up from the door, I think most people are inclined to believe him, as just about everyone would have to admit to mucking about/wasting time in a changing shed at some time or another (towel flick fights etc).
David Benson Pope may well be a sleaze, but merely stating he entered a shower block or a room where students were changing fails to demonstrate he had ulterior motives for doing so. It would be far more convincing if it could be shown DBP went out of his way to ensure he saw a bit of naked flesh, and entered these areas with no clear reason for doing so (note I would expect teachers to be a little zealously overprotective on a school camp). "Benson-Pope enters girls shower" may make a great headline, but the details of how and why he did so may tell an entirely different story.
Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Perhaps it would be best if it all went before a judge - it would allow both parties some element of closure.
By far the most serious and the most damaging revelation is that DBP misled Parliament when he claimed there had been no complaints laid against him in 24 years as a teacher. This is the real issue, not the nighties. But I suspect the general public do not attach as much importance to "misleading the house" as do political and parliamentary junkies. The public are more likely to accept his public apology, even if they do not trust him quite the same way again.
While it is often claimed that in politics any publicity is good publicity I have never been sure that this is true, especially when the publicity is in any way attached to a grubby little scandal. Between 2001 and 2002, when Richard Prebble was leading the hunt against Marion Hobbs and Phillida Bunkle over their accommodation allowances I often thought that Prebble seemed to be doing just as much damage to himself as he did to the women with many houses. Is it a coincidence that it was around this time we started hearing the whispering campaign about Rodney Hide replacing Prebble as Act leader? I can't see the DBP saga doing anything to improve National's very low support among women, especially when one of its few women MPs appears to be engaging in traditional masculine dirty politics. Do not expect the DPB saga to do any great favours for the career of Judith Collins (probably a good thing!).
Ironically the Nats little witch hunt may create a groundswell of sympathy for DBP, sympathy DBP probably does not deserve. It has never stuck me as slightly surprising a teacher with 'power and control issues' decided to become a politician. It makes perfect sense.
Categories: Politics, New Zealand, National, Benson-Pope