Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Goff half-hearted in 'gay gaggle' response

Damien O'Connor's comments would help him win West Coast voters, Phil Goff said. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Damien O'Connor's comments would help him win West Coast voters, Phil Goff said. Photo / Mark Mitchell

This time last week in his lounge at Parliament, Phil Goff was denying that the Labour Party had factions.

This afternoon at his regular Monday press conference he announced that list MP Damien O'Connor has apologised to him over his comment that "a gaggle of gays and self-serving unionists" controlled the party's list ranking process.

Goff said O'Connor had apologised to him today and that O'Connor will apologise to the caucus tomorrow.

The fact is that most of the gays in Labour and most of the former union officials are in the left faction. (The one Goff pretends doesn't exist.)

Goff and O'Connor are in the right faction. Essentially this was an offensive way for the right faction to complain that the left have taken control. (The right had a small victory when George Hawkins took on the powerful EPMU and won in the selection of his successor.)

Goff's response to the O'Connor remarks has been half-hearted and it may even give the left faction cause to question Goff's judgement again as leader.

It was not commensurate with the objection undoubtedly being felt by the gays and unionists in the party.

Goff told my colleague Claire Trevett last night he had "scolded" O'Connor but agreed that "it will probably help him no end on the coast."

He almost seemed amused by it all.

Today he stressed that O'Connor was "wrong," not offensive and "a hothead", not homophobic.

The apology to Goff will not have been for the comments per se - O'Connor said this morning that he still stands by what he said.

The apology will have been for giving cause to expose the factions in Labour that lie just below the surface.

And for the diversion it has provided from the issues of the day that Labour could be getting into - such as Bill English's suggestion that New Zealand should exploit its low-wage difference with Australia.

Let's see if O'Connor stand by his comments tomorrow morning after caucus.

To be fair, Goff can't be condemned too strongly for denying the party has factions. Unity is one of the things leaders have to promote as a given truth, whether it is true or not, just like MPs have to say they support the leader, whether they do or not.

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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