Phil Goff's political judgment deserted him when he allowed Darren Hughes to be a member of the parliamentary team arguing "politics is a grubby business" for a high-profile earthquake fund-raising debate when he knew the MP was already involved in a behind-the-scenes probe into sexual misconduct allegations.

Goff has been around the political arena for more than three decades. But on the Hughes affair, the Labour leader's obvious liking for his youthful MP clouded his judgment.

Hughes did the right thing by "outing" himself as the Labour MP at the centre of the allegations once news of the police investigation into the complaint laid by an 18-year old man broke into the public domain. Yesterday's claim that the young student was seen naked near Hughes' digs at 4.30am could have only one outcome - the MP's immediate resignation.

But the whole issue could have been handled much more adroitly if Goff had simply stood the MP down from his shadow portfolio responsibilities the moment he told his boss about the police investigation, rather than putting his hands over his eyes and hoping the issue would go away.

There's an undercurrent to this saga which is rather disturbing.

If Hughes is a secret gay - as some of his colleagues contend - surely the wiser caucus heads in the Labour caucus could have persuaded him by now to be frank about his sexual preference. He is close to the Rainbow coalition.

Homosexuality has, after all, been legal in New Zealand since Hughes was a 7-year-old.

And when it came to "party time" during a roistering night on the town there would have been less room for confusion.

Goff's inability to apply consistent standards has also left him facing charges of hypocrisy. Unlike the Richard Worth affair, Hughes has not been accused of operating a political casting couch.

But in Worth's case, Goff showed no mercy when he demanded to know why John Key did not take his minister's warrants from him the moment he knew he was facing allegations from two women.

Goff now says he got it wrong and that "people are entitled to be regarded as innocent until they're proven guilty".

It is a pity that the Labour leader did not apply that reasoning in 2009 when he failed to supply any real evidence to back his own allegation that Worth tried to entice the "strikingly beautiful" Labour activist Neelam Choudary with the offer of a job on the Lottery Grants Board.

But that was then.

Goff's leadership has now been called into question by some of his colleagues. But claims that MP David Parker would mount a challenge were farcical.

It's also notable that (so far) National has not openly smeared Hughes.

It doesn't have to. The Hughes affair has been the "gift that goes on giving" as far as National is concerned.

It has meant there has been precious little public attention given to the fact that Finance Minister Bill English is now preparing to unveil the country's worst Budget deficit and the trade-offs that will involve.

Or the critical issue of whether the Prime Minister has become so blindsided by the string of national disasters that has befallen New Zealand in the past year that he refuses to take on board the International Monetary Fund's recommendations to broaden the Government's revenue-raising mechanisms through property taxes when if he took the public into his confidence they would probably make the necessary sacrifices to ensure the country comes through a tough period.

I think Key has been displaying all the signs of a politician in deep shock. His media management has been a bit off-key. He needlessly strung out the decision to shift the Rugby World Cup away from Christchurch after the February 22 earthquake because he wanted to let people down gently.

Christchurch citizens might have been more impressed if the Government had instead kept all its focus on getting the city's lifelines in place before winter.

But who can blame him?

The Prime Minister's own dreams for his Government have been severely circumscribed by first the impact of the global financial crisis on New Zealand, then the collapse of South Canterbury Finance, the two Canterbury earthquakes and the Pike River disaster.

This last year has truly been an annus horribilis.

At Len Brown's soiree to launch the process for "Auckland Unleashed" - the mayor's spatial plan for the Auckland SuperCity - Key did not fire. His address was not inspiring. People found him flat.

But that reality was also subsumed by the publicity over the Hughes affair.

Key and Goff are fundamentally decent men. They each aspire to lead New Zealand after the next election.

But they each must know that it is not going to get any easier in the short to medium term.

I hope they can park the Hughes affair and other such diversions and concentrate their own energies and attention on the big issues facing New Zealand.

That's what is desperately needed - not more indulging in the grubby arts of politics.