John Armstrong: Time needed to heal and rebuild

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

Is the Labour Party talk of Darren Hughes mounting a political comeback realistic? Or is this a case of mouthing soothing platitudes to a fallen comrade?

The answer to the first question is a conditional "yes", now that the police have determined Hughes will not be facing any charges after a long investigation into a complaint of a sexual nature made against him by an 18-year-old male.

Whatever his former caucus colleagues think about Hughes' judgment in this episode, there is a substantial reservoir of goodwill towards him within the Labour camp.

He is someone who had the respect of both the current and former leadership. A measure of that came yesterday from Helen Clark - one of the few times she has commented publicly on domestic politics since heading for the United Nations in New York.

The prevailing sentiment in Parliament since Hughes' resignation as an MP can be summed up in three words - what a waste.

His pluses far outweigh the embarrassment he has inflicted on his party. Hughes was seen as having huge political talent and the ability to make it to the upper echelons of some future Labour Cabinet.

He still might. The precedent is Colin Moyle, the former Cabinet minister who was accused by Sir Robert Muldoon in the 1970s of being questioned by police on suspicion of homosexual activities, then illegal. Moyle's changing story prompted his resignation from Parliament. He returned in 1981 and became Minister of Agriculture when Labour swept into power three years later.

Hughes' many friends in Labour agree he needs one thing more than anything. Time. As someone whose whole adult life has revolved around politics, he needs time to think about his future; he needs time to put some distance between himself and this unfortunate affair.

They will be counselling him accordingly. From his statement yesterday, it seems he has got the message. Time means he may choose to find a new career and with it a new life.

The door is ajar for him to return to his old one. But not now. And not at this November's election.

Long-serving MP Trevor Mallard spoke for the caucus yesterday. Phil Goff is overseas and deputy leader Annette King has refrained from commenting on the affair from the start because she is conflicted by her close friendship with Hughes.

Notably, Mallard needed little prodding to agree political resurrection was possible.

He also had an answer to another lingering question: would Hughes still be an MP today if Goff had not made such a hash of things in initially trying to protect Hughes from the so-called "media frenzy"?

Mallard blamed the media for making it impossible for Hughes to stay in the job. In fact, the parliamentary media were arguably more consumed with judging Goff's handling of the matter.

Hughes had to go for two reasons: the matter of poor personal judgment, and because Goff did not stand him down immediately when he heard of the police investigation. From then on, Goff had to play catch-up to protect his own position.

Hughes was necessarily sacrificed. Resurrection is not entirely out of the question, however.

- NZ Herald

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