Bryce Edwards: Political roundup: The right-wing crisis over the Len Brown scandal

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L-R: Luigi Wewege, Bevan Chuang and John Palino.
L-R: Luigi Wewege, Bevan Chuang and John Palino.

It was meant to be the scandal that would kill off the career of a centre-left political leader. Instead, it looks like it may end up doing more damage to the political right in New Zealand, including National and the Government.

As I argued on Friday - see: Dirty politics means we all suffer - the political fallout is going to be much wider than just Len Brown. Tracy Watkins has a very good column elaborating on this theme - see: Story could be game-changer. In particular, the National Party is vulnerable to being judged as guilty by association. This became even more apparent during the weekend, with attention increasingly focused on the motives and machinations of those on the right who played a part in bringing the Len Brown scandal to light.

More importantly, the Herald revealed on Saturday that Palino met with Chuang on election night, with TV3's The Nation revealing further allegations about the alleged rightwing conspiracy in an 18-minute video, which also included an excellent interview with Cameron Slater.

The story is covered well in Matthew Backhouse's Blogger denies plot to unseat Brown. And you can read the full transcript of the Slater interview: Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater interviewed on The Nation. Slater also provides some useful and interesting answers in this blogpost: Rapid Fire Q+A on Len Brown story.

Despite the fact that the Brown scandal has been frontpage news now for nearly a week, the moral focus has not worked and there's been a definite public revulsion accompanying the fascination. With a public uncomfortable with the nature of the revelations it is likely that those implicated in the scandalmongering will suffer severe reputational damage.

Indeed, opinion now appears to be turning against Len Brown's opponents. For example, a New Zealand Herald editorial yesterday was - despite its title (Brown has questions to answer;) - tough on the Auckland right rather than on the mayor: 'Having lost the election fairly, squarely and predictably last Saturday, they were not content with credit for a better than expected vote, they set about on Sunday to destroy the winner. They used - in the worst sense of the word - the woman involved in the affair.'

In fact, there might even be growing public sympathy for Brown. The only scientific opinion polling released so far shows that Brown has reasonably strong support. The important detail is in Bernard Orsman's Aucklanders would bring back Brown - survey. On top of this evidence, leftwing blogger and Otahuhu resident Daphna Whitmore provides some useful and interesting anecdotal evidence that Brown might not be as damaged in South Auckland as is commonly assumed - see: South Auckland misunderstood.

The Auckland rightwing and blogosphere

The sordid roll call of those involved in publicising Brown's affair can best be seen in Bevan Hurley's Herald article, Scenes of a sex scandal: Five-star hotels to low-rent motels in which 'shadowy characters' and their wish to create an 'American-style smear campaign' is detailed. Palino is implicated, too. All of those involved in bringing the scandal to life just appear more and more sordid - see Tony Wall's Reporter offers Chuang porn star role.

Matt McCarten puts it down to foreign influences on the Auckland political right: 'we generally don't use opponents' personal relationship failings as weapons. Overseas, it's fair game. Maybe that's why a recent immigrant on John Palino's campaign team thought romancing a woman and then badgering her to set up her former lover seemed a legitimate campaign strategy. Palino comes from New Jersey, arguably the American state with the most ruthless and corrupt politics, where this sort of takedown is standard fare. A new paradigm in politics, it seems, has been imported into New Zealand' - see: Disgrace for sons of Supercity.

Expect to see a lot of infighting amongst the right as National Party figures attempt to escape blame and involvement. For the best on this, see John Weekes and Kathryn Powley's Palino denies plot to take down Brown. They say that a 'bitter battle' has commenced 'between senior members of the Palino team and National Party insiders' and that 'Palino's election team was tearing itself apart last night over who was aware of the Brown affair'.

John Palino's denials

The role played by mayoral candidate John Palino has come under the microscope, with his denials being heavily scrutinised - see Colin Espiner's John Palino: I was never part of any plot. Scott Yorke parodies Palino's denials in A statement from John Palino. See also, Danyl McLauchlan's Code Brown and Russell Brown's Moving right along?

Luigi Wewege - public enemy number one

The unlikely star of the scandal has turned out to be Luigi Wewege, a character seemingly straight of central casting for a political drama. Wewege is coming in for a massive amount of attention, especially from those supportive of Len Brown. It's not only his apparently pivotal role in the scandal, but his own background that is now being made public- see, in particular, Bevan Hurley and John Weekes' Holes in Wewege's shining CV and Jared Savage's Palino's man cut from global list.

The Herald has even singled out Wewege in an editorial: 'Perhaps the worst specimen in this bunch is a newcomer to New Zealand and its politics, Luigi Wewege. His email exchanges with Chuang suggest he wormed his way into her affections only to get evidence of her affair with the mayor' - see: Brown has questions to answer.

The Twittersphere is now mercilessly mocking Wewege. For some examples, see my own aggregation of this in Top tweets about Luigi Wewege.

Bevan Chuang - victim or perpetrator?

Bevan Chuang is one rightwing politician who has come out of the Brown scandal with regret. There is ongoing debate as to what extent she has been a victim of her own actions. Kerre McIvor has a particularly unsympathetic critique of Chuang - see: Mayor's affair a sad sideshow. McIvor is especially dismissive of Chuang playing the victim.

Others are bringing in a gender critique, such as Deborah Coddington who says 'Women like this let the side down. And women who take her side and call her a victim - by implication, the defenceless, exploited female of the species - take feminism back a few decades' - see: Power as a turn-on. Beck Eleven says that Chuang has erred by saying too much: 'I thought it degrading on her part to include the duration of his performance, the surface upon which his sexual effluvia landed, or the cost of the underwear he bought as a gift' - see: Chuang's kiss-and-tell undermines her promise. See also, Martin van Beynen's Can Len Brown survive derision?.

Others have referred to ethnicity in their critique of Chuang - see Renee Liang's Getting beyond Asian. She says that Chuang has played the 'ethnicity card' and that 'There's no telling the damage Bevan's story might have done to other (young) (Asian) women and the conclusions uninformed people might now make about us'. So the list of those damaged by Chuang's actions is growing longer. It also include the Auckland Communities & Residents ticket - see Jared Savage's Chuang's record known to C&R.

The National Party - hoping to avoid guilt by association

The National Party is seemingly not directly involved in this scandal but there are certainly a lot of National Party figures in it. As Rachel Smalley writes today, 'the fallout from this could be very damaging for the party and for the Government. Palino is on the right of politics, and for that very reason a crisis team will be working hard to stop this damaging the Government in any way' - see: Len Brown sex scandal feels very American.

For leftwing analysis and speculation on how the scandal will affect the National Party, see Martyn Bradbury's Will latest Whaleoil sleaze empower the 'Anyone But Collins' National Party clique? and Greg Presland's National's Civil War.

The upshot is that the National Party will not want to be seen as in any way associated with this train wreck of a scandal. The tawdriness of it all reflects very poorly on those involved in making the allegations public, and the New Zealand public will quickly become intolerant of what appears to be dirty politics. The National Government is already facing a difficult re-election campaign next year against a newly-revitalised Labour Party and, as with any second-term administration, is vulnerable to being associated with sleaze and staleness. The last thing that John Key will want is for his party to be seen as embroiled in this sort of mess.

Finally, to see how the scandal is being reported internationally, see Tim Hulme's CNN article, Sex scandal engulfs Auckland 'super mayor' Len Brown.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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