9 Jul 2017

National farewells its lefty MP

From The House, 7:32 am on 9 July 2017

Elections are a time of change. The mighty can tumble, underdogs can shine. For some, it’s a signal to move on of their own accord.  National's Chester Borrows looks back at his twelve years as an MP for The Houses series with exiting politicians.

Chester Borrows has been described as ‘National’s lefty’. It’s a label he’s happy to own.

“I think, on the political spectrum I probably sit closer to Annette King than I can to Judith Collins for instance, but that’s just because the two main parties are quite broad churches, and the National Party is especially.”

He doesn’t think being National’s lefty hurt his career (he was a minister outside cabinet and Deputy Speaker, but never entered cabinet). 

“I’m not in any way got my nose out of joint or shaking the dust off my sandals. I mean the fact is you can’t have cabinet of twenty white guys. And so it’s important to have a range of age, ethnic and gender diversity, and a diversity of viewpoint, so that’s okay.”

But he does wonder whether being easy to manage was detrimental.

“I think that maybe I was …a lot more the loyal old Labrador than someone who’s a little bit prickly and gorsy and might have achieved a little bit more.  But I don’t want to be that person.”

“Some leaders would say if you’re a risk or a threat you’ve got leverage. Other people reward good behaviour.”

He doesn’t mention which leaders or prickly MPs he has in mind.

National MP Chester Borrows looks at photos of supermarket signs which incorrectly label the origin of produce.

Chester Borrows looks at evidence from a submitter in a Select Committee.  Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

In Chester Borrows' maiden speech he stressed social conscience and said he planned to keep National connected to “the bottom of the tree, socially” because unlike many National MPs who were farmers and businessmen, he was from the grassroots.

He thinks he has succeeded in being their voice.

“It’s important too to make sure that what we were doing is socially responsible for those people right at the bottom of the tree who might never vote for us.”

Among the things he’s proud of from his role is changing the rules so that police can take DNA from anyone arrested without a warrant, along with fingerprints and photo.

“Just doing that means we’ve probably saved thousands of victims because as soon as an offender leaves hair, blood, semen, spittle, skin at a crime scene they can be identified. …I doubt if half the caucus knew it was my idea in the first place. But in actual fact, it’s a biggie.”

Whanganui MP Chester Borrows

Chester Borrows was both a front line policeman and a small town lawyer before entering Parliament. Photo: RNZ

But always, along with proud moments, there are regrets, though Chester Borrows doesn't like that word.

“I wish I hadn’t voted for the three strikes legislation. It was a party vote. And I spoke strongly against removing the right of prisoners to vote in prison, but lost the battle in caucus so had to vote for that. I’m sad about that.”

“Others I think you just grow up a bit," he says.

"You know, I voted against the gay marriage bill and yet since then, as a celebrant, I’ve actually celebrated the marriage of a gay couple; probably because I analysed myself a bit more and found out that actually, I do think that people who love each other and want to make a commitment to one another and form a family are good for society, because the strength of society and the community is in strong families. So I don't it makes any difference whether they’re a gay couple or not.”

The collegiality of Members of Parliament is one of the things he will miss when he leaves – which contradicts the impression that MPs are at each other’s throats.

“The public want to see representatives who can get on. They don’t have to go to each other’s houses for dinner or be best mates. But you should be able to work in a collegial way whether or not you represent one sector of society or another.  …because that’s the way we should live on the planet.”

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Since entering politics he has added painting to his pallet, something he wants to explore more. Photo: Chester Borrows

Chester Borrows is currently looking for his next role hoping to find something in the justice, welfare, treaty negotiations, Waitangi Tribunal, or human rights spaces.

So the options may seem wide open but it's not always easy to transition from government to government servant. 

He’s also looking forward to spending more time on getting serious about his painting and reconnecting with his grassroots. 

“I guess I want to start giving back to my family and my mates, because I’ve missed so many crucial dates and celebrations over the last twenty years.”

Read The House's exit interview with departing Green MP Catherine Delahunty here