Brian Edwards Media

A Hypothesis: Let’s assume for the moment that Darren Hughes is telling the truth.

Cartoon by Webb

Let’s assume just for the moment that Darren Hughes is telling the truth when he says he did nothing wrong when he took an eighteen-year-old back to his lodgings in the early hours of March 2.

Let’s set the bar even higher and assume that Hughes is not just relying on the letter of the law when he says he did nothing wrong, but  that  nothing of a sexual nature, nothing ‘improper’ in any way  took place. They had a cup of coffee and continued talking politics until the 18-year-old left.
And finally, let’s not worry about the probability or lack of probability of these assumptions or where this leaves the 18-year-old and his complaint to the police.
We’re simply considering a hypothesis: Darren Hughes is completely innocent.
This hypothesis was debated  on last night’s Close Upby three very experienced and very knowledgeable commentators: former Labour Party president, Mike Williams, former Labour MP, John Tamihere and Dr Bryce Edwards, blogger and lecturer in Politics at Otago University.

Asked whether Hughes political  aspirations were dog-tucker even if no prosecution were taken against him – effectively a declaration that he had broken no law – all three agreed that that was indeed the case. One expressed the reservation that if the police dealt with the matter quickly, there was a chance that Hughes might survive – a reasonably unlikely scenario, given the cops’ historic tardiness in dealing with this sort of matter. 
A similar view was taken in his column this morning  by Herald political correspondent John Armstrong, for whom I have considerable respect:.
 ‘Regardless of what did or did not happen at King’s house, Hughes’ judgement (or lack of it) is what matters in the unforgiving court of politics.’
So the position then is that, in politics, a totally innocent person’s career can be destroyed for no better reason than that an unsustainable but damaging complaint   is  made against them and that this constitutes an embarrassment to their party.
I don’t doubt that all four commentators would argue that they were merely being ’realistic’, but their ready acceptance of what seems to me an entirely unfair and unacceptable  state of affairs appalled me: how sad, can’t be helped, never mind, c’est la vie. To take the view that it’s OK in politics for the totally innocent  to have their careers destroyed because that’s how it’s always been, strikes me as morally defeatist.
The ‘showed lack of judgement’ response to this opinion goes hand in hand with the ‘perception is all in politics’ mantra, which is merely another way of saying that truth is less important than appearance, prejudice and suspicion.
I’m not saying that this isn’t the true situation; I’m saying that we ought not to accept its inevitability or the impossibility of working towards a more equitable and fair political reality.
In such a reality ‘lack of judgement’ would be weighed against the MP’s past performance, the seriousness of the lapse, whether it was in or out of character, the level of electoral damage it might incur, the MP’s future prospects in or out of parliament and, when all of that was taken into account, what degree of loyalty the party owed that person. The punishment, in other words, should fit the crime.
This seems to me a rather more rational approach than the ‘one strike and you’re out’ mentality which my four very expert political commentators seemed to think inevitable because ‘that’s politics’.
So let’s just say that the police find that the 18-year-old’s complaint was without substance and there are no grounds to prosecute Darren Hughes. The accumulated wisdom of the New Zealand political commentariat, and not just the four who came to my attention, is that, nine months away from a general election, Phil Goff cannot afford to keep Darren Hughes in the party because, I suppose, ‘mud sticks’.
Maybe I have an unrealistic view of the average Kiwi, but if this scenario did eventuate, I rather think that welcoming Hughes back into the fold, and at the very most demoting him for his ‘lack of judgement’,  would do Labour no end of good. The party has too little young blood to spill.
In the meantime there is an onus on the police to deal with this matter quickly, in days, not weeks or months. As the old saying goes, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ – whoever wins.

[The news is now out that Phil Goff has accepted Darren Hughes’ resignation. That is either an act of extreme self-sacrifice on Hughes’ part or an indication that the findings of the police investigation, even if they fall short of  justifying a prosecution, may make his position untenable. In either case, this is a personal  tragedy for Hughes, a political tragedy for the Labour Party and, in my submission, a matter of deep regret for anyone who has watched this talented and hugely personable MP’s career.]

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28 Comments:

  1. Call me cynical if you like… I know I’m probably the most apolitical person who walks this planet, but I really do wonder whether the average kiwi will remember any of this come voting day…

    Really?

  2. I agree with some of what you say Brian, but I think one needs to be clear about the difference between two scenarios.

    The first is that Darren is not charged and the Police basically say the complaint had no substance at all – was proven to be false, or malicious.

    The second is that the Police do not charge because it is his word vs his word and they do not think a prosecution would succeed as there is reasonable doubt.

    In the first scenario, Darren should be able to continue as an MP.

    In the second, then it all depends on the details.

  3. It seems likely that it would be simply jump to “justice denied” regardless of facts. What has happened to “innocent until proven guilty” in NZ. Are the majority of New Zealanders that vindictive? Bloody hope not.

  4. 4

    However, it would be a very different matter if something of a sexual nature had happened and Hughes had denied it in a police investigation, even if the only real wrongdoing was a lapse of judgement on his part (the nature of the accusation and its validity remain, as yet, unknown, and quite frankly “Qui sine peccato est, primam lapidem mittat”). Bill Clinton deja vu.

    BE: Of course, if Hughes lied to the police, that would be an entirely different matter. If my Latin is up to it, your quote means: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

  5. I totally agree with you actually, and it makes me sad that things have come to this too. I think that things would be different though if in your hypothetical, he did no wrong scenario, there was no late night drinking with a much younger person. It is those factors that bring his “judgement” into play, even if there is actually no substance to the case.

    Personally, I think this is a shame and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with drinking late at night and spending time alone with a much younger person. Actually if there actually is something wrong with those things, then presumably Winston Peter’s judgement would have been called into play long ago!

  6. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/4809631/MP-Darren-Hughes-case-Naked-man-seen

    And now this from one Jonathan Marshall!

    BE: He’s consistent at least.

  7. I suspect a huge proportion of the NZ population will, 6 months from now, have forgotten the name “Darren Hughes” or what the issue was. A lot of people pay no attention to the news or the bobbling heads that populate it. I re-learn this every time I try to discuss current events with my neighbours. There is almost no point in trying.

  8. I think the story has moved on from Darren Hughes, in spite of the attempt by our newly tabloid papers to sex the story up (see the latest Stuff item).

    The story is now about the crap judgement and memory of Phil Goff vis a vis the Richard Worth sacking.

    So Trevor Mallard & Darren Hughes are out of action, Phil Goff is mired in his own inadequacy, Annette King is a nice person and the Green Party are invisible. The best of Governments need an opposition. Who is to be then? Brian Edwards and Russell Brown.

    BE: That’s very flattering and I’d be happy to have Russell as my deputy.

  9. 9

    There has been no validation of the “naked man” event by the police that I’ve seen, and certainly no verification of a link to the Hughes case, so this is entirely irresponsible journalism and deserving of complaint. And besides, this sounds deeply suspect. On the odd occasion I have had to extricate myself from being unwantedly chased around the couch, my clothes have not mysteriously evaporated. And if things had gotten that far, one should surely have opportunity to put one’s clothes back on, especially in the home of a senior female politician if this is indeed connected to the Hughes case – this smacks of a red herring. Marshall sounds like he’s read one too many books about the Jeffery Dahmer case.

    BE: Quite. Give my condolences to your wife.

  10. Really sad that Darren is being treated like some sort of crazed sex attacker…

    Trial by media…again!

  11. It’s evident that people embroiled in the political scene think the world revolves around them and that the general NZ voting public are as equally entranced. Reality check guys. For this reason alone I doubt that the general public will perceive Hughes as dog tucker if the police give him the all clear.

  12. Not quite, Brian.
    As I understand the situation, Mr Hughes is generally regarded as being homosexual and therefore the propriety of inviting a young man to his home at a late hour is much more questionable, and on a par with a high status male picking up a teenager under similar circumstances.
    As chief whip of a major political party, he was risking his standing in his community and among occupational colleagues.
    When the teenager in question is also identified as a “junior m.p.” the question of propriety and simple prudence is even more of an issue.
    I am not suggesting he should be stoned, or that he should be treated as a criminal until all the facts are established and our judicial processes have been fully followed and he has been duly condemned of a crime.
    But as a prominent political figure and party whip he has behaved badly.

    BE: Well, many people agree with you. A couple of points. You’re assuming that Hughes ‘invited’ this young man. We don’t know that. And, though technically a teenager, an 18-year-old is an adult in New Zealand law.

  13. If the cup of tea scenario you postulate holds, then in my opinion a leader of integrity would indeed stand by their man and continue to use their competence to the party’s best advantage. I have sufficient optimism to believe that the right thing to do is also the most politically advantageous thing to do.

  14. “So the position then is that, in politics, a totally innocent person’s career can be destroyed for no better reason than that an unsustainable but damaging complaint is made against them and that this constitutes an embarrassment to their party”.

    Nope, I don’t think that happens. It is a case of HOW you handle it. Stephen Jones has rehabilitated himself, because he managed it well. Politics is about perception, and politicians, even more then the electorate, know that. They package themselves, and leave very little of substance to judge them by.

    But one of the things we can effectively judge them on is their ability to “manage the circumstances to create the perception”. If they can do that, then chances are they have the skills to manage a portfolio, or run the country. If not…

    Just look at Helen Clark managed stuff like Paintergate, and getting Trevor Mallard to run a block on Owen Glenn so they weren’t even photographed together.

    Goff and Hughes are inept amateurs by comparison – and Goff now looks like a hypocrite as his comments on Richard Worth are coming back to haunt him.

    You ask us to suspend judgement of Hughes, and ‘assume’ he is innocent. Of what? A crime? Fair enough. But he is most certainly not innocent of political mismanagement. Which means his time is probably up…

    BE: The flaw in all of this is that how the matter was ‘managed’ would have been out of Hughes’ hands. Goff would have determined that. And who is Stephen Jones?

  15. …apologies – I maent Shane Jones.

    No, I disagree. Hughes could have managed it, by front-footing, and taking away the “gotcha” factor. Instead there is a 2 to three week delay, when Goff, King, and Hughes all sat on the story, and hoped it wouldn’t leak.

    If Gof and King held back, it was not because it was in the best interests of the party, but out of a sense of misplaced loyalty. Hughes should have insisted he be allowed to front foot the matter, by hiring the services of Brian Edwards, instead of hoping it would go away. Demonstrates a failure to take charge of what he could have taken charge of.

    BE: I’m afraid I think it’s naive to believe that Hughes could have made any move without first consulting his leader. It’s academic now anyway, since Goff has now accepted his resignation.

  16. Trial by media must be pretty disheartening to experience, but trial by Jonathan Marshall is truly awful.

  17. Independent of this particular case, the media are prone to covering up a “lack of facts” in a potential scandal with statements about “lack of judgment”.

    Of course they mean a lack of judgment shown by some prominent party, but it ironically involves a profound lack of judgment by the media themselves, allowing them to create a story out of speculation.

  18. “I’m afraid I think it’s naive to believe that Hughes could have made any move without first consulting his leader”.

    Didn’t say that he could have made a move without consulting his leader, Brian. I think you are the one who is naive. Hughes should have gone to his leader saying, “I want to make a public announcement”, rather than hoping Goff’s judgement would fall astray trying to look after a mate, rather than a cool dispassionate analysis of the politics. Goff’s pronouncements on Richard Worth made the proper plan of disclosure obvious.

    Also, you are confining Hughes’ management options to what happened AFTER the incident occurred. I think Hughes is paying the price for not having his political management in place BEFORE it happened. Ask yourself – is something like this likely to have happened to Helen Clark or John Key, or any half decent potential Minister?

    Also, your dismissal, “It’s academic now anyway, since Goff has now accepted his resignation”, doesn’t wash. Your post is based on an academic postulation. “Let’s assume just for a moment…”. Also, because Hughes and Goff and King mishandled the politics so badly, the problem most certainly not academic – it is growing and compounding…

    BE: If I could make any sense of this, I’d reply. And to save you the trouble, Kimbo, I’m obviously thick.

  19. 19

    The accumulated wisdom of the New Zealand political commentariat, and not just ‘the four’ (if you include “the interviewer”) who came to my attention, This hypothesis was debated on last night’s Close Up by three very experienced and very knowledgeable commentators: former Labour Party president, Mike Williams, former Labour MP, John Tamihere and Dr Bryce Edwards, blogger and lecturer in Politics at Otago University.

    BE: Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. The fourth was the Herald’s John Armstrong, not Mark Sainsbury.

  20. Hughes has now resigned of course. If he is innocent as he states, then it begs the real question as to why he has resigned. I don’t believe there is as of now any legal requirment for him to resign. Goff gave as a key reason tonight that he wouldnt be able to do his work as a MP. However He has had his shadow portfolio’s taken from him, leaving him with a much reduced workload and, I would have thought, plenty of time to fight his corner. On the face of it he did not have to resign and as such it seems like he’s thrown in the towel, which is odd, given his passion for politics.

    I also believe that, given his claims of innocence and his apparant cross part support, that he would not be harrassed in parliament on this issue. Turiana Turia’s statement tonight on this matter indicates that this would be the case.

    For me, the reason’s given for his resignation just don’t ring true. Its all very intriguing. One can only speculate but I suspect that there are other reasons for his resignation that may yet surface.

  21. My view of the resignation is that he was pressured to do so because of the Party, as the President, Andrew Little said more than once in his interview on Nat Rad. Goff was being damaged, as usual, and the slurs were becoming pretty sleasy. Had to go.

  22. About the “lack of judgement” thing … I don’t have a problem with a 32 year old having casual sex with an 18 year old. If they are both single and it’s consensual, then it’s fine. As long as the politician works hard, a bit of after hours fun is all good.
    I wouldn’t vote for a politician who had an affair while married because it means he/she is a selfish liar who can’t be trusted to make good decisions.

    BE: Well said, Sarah.

  23. Hughes has consistently said he has done nothing wrong and by this I read illegal. While I agree with Sarah in theory, in practice someone climbing the ladder should be better at their self-management and he could have done a lot that was not illegal but if public would be untenable.

    I also think that it makes no difference in this case if the scenario were straight or gay. Except (and a separate debate) is it acceptable in modern politics for an MP to be publicly closeted?

    It is clear that Goff at first foolishly tried to protect his close colleague and when the media wolf turned on this judgement, Hughes had to go.

    The most long term effect of this is the public exposure of the lack of relationship between Goff and Little. It is inconceivable that Goff did not inform Little of this and simply on this fact alone I believe Goff will be gone before the end of the coming week.

    I can also forsee his replacement in the caucus will be a deputy Leader and for the first time in a very long time Little will be a leader looking to win his way into Parliament.

    This seems radical maybe but I can see the party wanting to assert some control back of a bunch of reps that really are not in the game currently.

  24. My first reaction to this story was – was Darren Hughes set up? There has been no report (that I’m aware of) of the party for which the ‘youth MP’ went to Parliament.

    Could Hughes’s drink have been spiked?

    The whole thing smells fishy to me. Hard to imagine three politicians of the experience of Clark, Goff and King misreading the character of Hughes so badly that they would have taken him under their collective wings and promoted his cause (over quite a number of years now) without any of them discerning in his makeup the possibility of his making such a mighty error of judgement such as inviting a young man (whom he may or may not have known previously) back to his mentor’s home for a sex romp.

    And what about the naked man? It is mischievous in the extreme that some media are reporting the two incidents in the same breath without also confirming that the naked man was indeed the complainant to the police.

  25. My first reaction to this story was – was Darren Hughes set up? There has been no report (that I’m aware of) of the party for which the ‘youth MP’ went to Parliament.

    And what relevance would that have to anything, Grocersgirl — apart from a truly disgusting attempt to pre-emptively assassinate the character of the complainant?

    And people wonder why so many victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence don’t go to the police, don’t press charges, won’t set themselves up for the kind of filth that was thrown at women like Louise Nicholas and the Assange complainants?

    BE: Well, Craig, if the 18-year-old man were a member of the Young Nationals, that would be a thought that would occur to quite a few people, as it would be if the opposite scenario applied. It is, if you like, a natural thought to occur to anyone with an enquiring mind. You don’t have to be ‘disgusting’ to think it.

    As for Louise Nicholas and Assange: Louise Nicholas did go to the police and it got her nowhere. Her courage in battling on won her huge public support and admiration. The Assange complainants seem to be faring pretty well, with the real possibility that Assange will be sent back to Sweden. Given your views on the Hughes case, I assume you would find the suggestion that these two women might be part of a conspiracy to silence this annoying fellow ‘disgusting’ as well.

  26. BE: Well, Craig, if the 18-year-old man were a member of the Young Nationals, that would be a thought that would occur to quite a few people, as it would be if the opposite scenario applied. It is, if you like, a natural thought to occur to anyone with an enquiring mind. You don’t have to be ‘disgusting’ to think it.

    Yes, Brian, and it’s a “natural thought” that occurs to quite a few people that Lousie Nicholas is a stalker with some grudge against Police, the Assange complainants are “CIA honeytraps” and any rape/abuse complainant is presumed to be a liar

    Back on planet Earth, many members of the Youth Parliament are associated with the youth wings of National, Labour and the Greens. Many more are not.

    None of them should be presumed to be liars — let alone involved in some “honeytrap” — if they report being assaulted or exploited. If you don’t see how ghastly it is to let comments like that stand, you might want to think about your liability for publishing a comment insinuating the complainants in this case 1) drugged Hughes, and/or, 2) has laid a false criminal complaint. They’re both criminal offences, Brian — and you know that.

    BE: I’m sorry, Craig, you’re just missing the point. What you’re asking for is a sort of censorship of the mind. You want people to stop considering possibilities. The fact that the possibilities are unpleasant is irrelevant. People do unpleasant things. If you look at the Hughes matter, you can say this might have happened or that might have happened. If this matter ever gets to court, a jury will have to do exactly that. No point in saying to the prosecutor of defence counsel, ‘Oh no, I can’t possibly believe he would have done that. It’s too unpleasant.’

  27. One thing is for sure now, and that is that Darren’s boozing and libido plus his lack of judgement and prudence have landed him and his Party Leader in the Sh*t. Silly bugger.