Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Best advice: Keep it in your pants

Auckland City Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Auckland City Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey

There was a chorus of "ughs" down the Press Gallery corridor when news, in its excruciating detail, of Len Brown's affair was posted on the Whale Oil website.

From the reactions of MPs later, there was a similar echo down the corridors of power.

No one went into bat for him. The closest they came to it was saying that it was none of their business. Similarly, no one called for his head.

Such is the universality of what Hamish Keith described as moral frailty that it is more likely that the predominant concern among MPs, once they were done reading the details and sniggering quietly at the two-minute-noodle jokes, was what it meant for them.

There was undoubtedly some concern that coverage of Brown's affair amounted to the girl pulling her thumb out of the dyke, and this would mean any public figure was now fair game.

Some went a bit pursed-lips about it, while also giving away that they had read every word.

Judith Collins observed the report had certainly been "very detailed", before declining to comment on whether it was appropriate behaviour. Local Government Minister Chris Tremain said it was up to Auckland ratepayers to decide whether it was appropriate - something they will have three years to contemplate if Brown sticks to his guns.

Shane Jones, who has had his own issues relating to the bedroom, wisely forbore from making comment on Brown - although he could not resist completely, observing he was surprised that they had "taken the route of the Ngati Whatua room. That's r-o-u-t-e."

Perhaps the best response was from Ngati Whatua's Ngarimu Blair, who put a positive spin on it, pointing out that at least people now knew that there was a "Ngati Whatua" room at the council, "although it's a pretty dramatic way for people to learn that we have a Ngati Whatua suite".

There is nothing new about politicians having affairs. And there was nothing extraordinary about Brown's affair, really. The details were shocking simply because the act was described there in black and white. What they described was ordinary basic sex, nothing at all to compare with what the less-puritanical Italians enjoyed with their bunga-bunga former Prime Minister.

What was more interesting was watching people come up with the reasons it was a terrible thing warranting inspection and pressuring Brown to resign over it.

For some, the reason it was worthy of public exposure was that it was carried on on council property. Quite why that was so significant is unclear. On Grey's Anatomy, the supplies cupboard is in frequent use. Brown might have had more to answer for in that regard had council resources been used to wine and dine Bevan Chuang, or to buy the inexpensive, ill-fitting lingerie she said he had given her.

For others, the sin was that the affair was distracting Brown from his job as mayor, that every two minutes he dedicated to the affair was time he could have spent pondering how to ensure people's berms were mown without rate increases.

Everybody has distractions. In fact, when it comes to time, family and raising children is a far more time-consuming distraction than an affair.

The more valid analysis was what a two-year long affair said about Brown's character and judgment. Two years was two-thirds of his tenure as mayor.

The argument went that if his family could not trust him, how could the ratepayers? That was particularly accentuated when it came to his heartland constituency of South Auckland, where there is a strong moral element that tends to believe marriage vows mean what they say. Character is a valid reason for reporting on such shenanigans.

It took no time at all for questions to be raised about whether he should resign. There is no black-and-white rule on whether an MP should resign for having an affair. Criminal acts and issues such as fraud or blackmail are easier. But sexual shenanigans have always been a grey area.

In general, prime ministers and those who would be prime ministers are, and should be, held to a higher standard on such matters. Hence the attention paid to Don Brash's affair when National's leader.

It is a rather bizarre truth that the more immoral a politician is regarded as being already, the more likely he or she is to survive having an affair.

Of course, Brown's affair will provide some guidance to any who bother to engage in strategic thinking. The clear message is to pick your partner well. Don't pick somebody who knows your political enemy.

The trouble is that strategic thinking is rarely top of the mind when it comes to affairs. MPs have political advisers for all manner of things but not this one. For politicians, the same advice applies as for contraception. Abstinence is the safest option.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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