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No excuse for vile abuse, but…

There is an evident uptick in abuse directed at our public servants, from the outgoing prime minister to local council employees.

A great deal of coverage about Jacinda Ardern’s resignation has focused on the amount of abuse she’s attracted, along with speculation she may need ongoing security, such is the level of lingering animosity.

Meanwhile, as reported by Wairarapa Times-Age yesterday, there have recently been dozens of serious incidents of bullying and harassment suffered by South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] staff.

Local MP Kieran McAnulty has weighed in on both examples of our increasingly uncivil society with an assessment that’s difficult to disagree with whatever your political allegiance — such vicious vitriol is unacceptable, and there’s no excuse for it.

There is a biggish “but”, however.

While there is no excuse for the reported abuse, there will be reasons for it [how rational some of those reasons may be is another matter].

Having only returned to the region after 26 years away in Auckland, I’m not familiar with the recent issues at SWDC, although I’m reliably told they include the area’s recent shock rates rise, along with a lack of effective community engagement and a sense of slippage in the standard of services being delivered.

To repeat, it’s not an excuse for the reported anti-social behaviour. Then again, it is understandable if frustrations sometimes inappropriately boil over when unpopular [and, on occasion, unfair] decisions are delivered from on high without adequate explanation or community input.

Ditto the abuse aimed at Ardern. It’s unacceptable as well as understandable [up to a point, anyway].

Just as the Government spent some time last year claiming that rapidly rising inflation was entirely due to the global economy and had absolutely nothing to do with any local policy decisions, there appears to be an effort to paint any antipathy to Ardern as entirely due to rampant misogyny.

That’s a simplistic narrative that doesn’t stack up.

While there is a good deal of bad old sexism in too many of the barbs lobbed at Ardern, to ascribe any criticism of her [as some Labour operatives have sought to do since she became leader] to a generalised hatred of women [the original meaning of ‘misogyny’] is over-egging the issue.

For those who are comfortably insulated from the impact of the Government decisions she presided over and fronted, the condemnation directed at Ardern is no doubt perplexing.

But there are plenty of people who have been at the sharp end of policies shaped by Labour’s political preferences who have legitimate cause for complaint – citizens shut out of their own country while DJs were allowed across the border spring to mind.

Yes, Government workers – whether the PM or the SWDC receptionist – are human beings too, and don’t deserve to be subjected to vile insults as they discharge their duties.

But there’s also an unfortunate tendency for local and national authorities to lose sight of the human impact of their various edicts and see citizens as no more than stats on a spreadsheet.

Less of that kind of high-handed attitude is likely to result in a reduction in some of the feral ferocity.

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