Hughes should fully front up - expert

By Derek Cheng

Darren Hughes. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Darren Hughes. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Questions about the judgment and behaviour of former MP Darren Hughes are still casting a cloud over him, even though he has been cleared of sex charges, says political scientist Bryce Edwards.

This week police cleared Mr Hughes of allegations laid by an 18-year-old student following a late-night incident in March.

Mr Hughes is now taking a break to consider his future, and the Labour Party has said it would welcome him back.

But Dr Edwards, a politics lecturer at Otago University, said there was still an information vacuum about what happened that night, and questions would remain until Mr Hughes explained himself.

"There will be a lot of sympathy, but until Darren Hughes front-foots the issue and puts up his explanation, he's never going to be totally innocent in the eyes of the public."

Dr Edwards said he would not be surprised if Mr Hughes made a political comeback, but "sadly he's always going to be the man accused by a naked 18-year-old of doing something wrong".

But Massey University political scientist Associate Professor Claire Robinson said it was unfair to raise questions about Mr Hughes' judgment because of the age of the complainant.

"At 18 you can vote. You've been driving for two or three years. It's some strange double standard at work, and it shouldn't affect his ability to come back as a politician or a public official.

"We have to accept that you are innocent until proven guilty. Just because his sex life is more public doesn't make him any less innocent."

Professor Robinson said if the Labour leadership had stood down Mr Hughes immediately after learning of the police investigation, he could have made an immediate comeback after being cleared.

Instead the party leadership kept it quiet for almost three weeks, sending Mr Hughes on leave only after the allegations became public. The next day Mr Hughes was stood down from his portfolios, and a day later he had resigned.

"[But] it didn't really change the amount of disrespect people already had for [party leader] Phil Goff. It didn't really go up or down because it was already so low," Professor Robinson said.

Most Labour MPs would not speak yesterday about the matter, though some said privately that Mr Hughes' first step should be to take a lengthy break.

Deputy leader Annette King would not comment, and David Cunliffe merely echoed previous comments.

"He was a very talented MP," Mr Cunliffe said. "He's got some time now to chart his course, and I'll certainly welcome him back at some time."

- NZ Herald

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