This is a terrible series of events. It appears that the 18-year old was subject to unwanted advances by an MP, which is bad enough. But the fact that the two allegedly met while the MP was acting in an official capacity makes matters significantly worse, elevating it to a serious abuse of position and trust. This, if true, is what makes the story a genuine scandal, whatever the specifics of the incident itself.
Labour is refusing to comment at the time of writing, which is probably because they are furiously gathering facts and devising an appropriate response. There may also be some hope that the scandal will go away if the accuser decides against pursuing the matter. If falls somewhere between inconceivable and unlikely that this will happen — name suppression is a tenuous form of containment in New Zealand at the best of times.
My understanding is that heavy drinking was involved in the lead-up to the alleged events. This is par for the course, both with respect to the NZ Parliament (which is a booze barn) and with respect to the MP himself who is widely known to imbibe with great and growing enthusiasm.
Therefore, the alleged scandal contains at least the following elements:
- The MP made unwanted sexual advances towards an 18-year male after an official function
- The MP is gay or bisexual, but has concealed the fact
- He has a drinking problem
This appears closely reminiscent of the Mark Foley scandal whereupon the Florida Congressman got in deep water over sleazy text messages and emails he sent to Congressional pages. The same abuse of authority, the same murky and closeted sexuality, the predictable role of booze. Foley resigned in disgrace after it became clear he would be turfed by his colleagues if he didn’t. He then attempted to mitigate his actions through revelations of alcoholism and childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. Foley is now openly gay, and there are periodic reports that he is considering a return to public life.
On the basis of those facts it is hard to see how or even why Labour is dying in the ditch to defend Darren Hughes.
What can our Labour MP learn from the Foley scandal and, more generally, how can he begin to respond to these events?
First, if these allegations turn out to accurately reflect events, there is no hope that the MP can remain in Parliament. It is not because he is gay or drinks too much; it is that he, at the very least, is guilty of straight-forward sexual harassment. If, for example, he was accused by someone at a gay bar of acting inappropriately or abusively, this would be damaging but not fatal (although this would complicated by the presence of a spouse). In such a scenario, he would need, probably, to leave the front-bench – but as long as he managed his response to the sexuality/alcohol abuse questions, he could stay in Parliament and rehabilitate his career. At a gay bar, he is just another drunken, horny closet-case. Take a number, get in line.
Coudn’t have said it better myself. This isn’t some sort of gay bashing slug-fest. What is important here is the abuse of authority and the sexual harassment, it matters not a bit that Darren Hughes may or may not be gay.
If the allegations are false because the events did not occur or occurred in a drastically different way, he must obviously fight until his name is cleared.
If the allegations are false by dint of subjective interpretation of events, he must avoid allowing this to descend into a unedifying spectacle of “he said-he said”. He will get no credit for disputing the account of an 18 year old. It is far better to concede what he can on his terms. While obviously avoiding self-incrimination on the advice of his lawyers, he ought to frame the events in a way that does not attempt to demean, or indeed blame, the alleged victim. This will not save his career in the short term, but will give him a fighting chance at rebuilding his reputation over the coming years.
A serious complicating issue here is the conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia, which is unfortunately well embedded in our culture. There is little doubt that certain elements will want to characterise this as something akin to child abuse despite the alleged victim’s age (18). If this were to take hold in the public mind, this represents a fatal blow to the MP’s reputation. It would elevate the scandal to a new level of seriousness with broader implications for the Labour brand.
Uhmmm not sure I agree with Phil here. To my knowledge no-one except Phil Quinn himself has made the link, tenuous and false though it is, of homosexuality with pedophilia. If I was Darren Hughes I wouldn’t be listening to that piece of advice.
Personally I don’t care one way or another about a person’s sexuality. I care very much though whether there has been an abuse of power or authority. Sexual harassment is not acceptable wither in the heterosexual community nor in the gay community. This is the issue here, along with Labour’s apparent willingness to try to whitewash the issues and now their scurrilous attacks on the alleged victim that they are shopping around the place.