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David Farrar

Why did Labour work so hard to protect the staffer?

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As someone who spent many years working in Parliament, and even longer alongside those who do, I know a fair bit about how political issues are managed, or mismanaged.

Anyone who thinks the PM’s senior staff and Grant Robertson were not meeting regularly over at least the last six weeks on how to deal with this scandal is naive. They would have known exactly what is alleged, because they’re not that incompetent. They would have briefed the PM, but possibly not in full detail to give her some plausible deniability. The notion they were leaving this all to the Party President to sort out is risible. I know these people. They are not morons. There is no way they were not dealing with this issue as a priority.

The real question is why didn’t they decide the staffer had to go six weeks ago when this went public, or even in the months before that as they learnt about the complaints. The same applies to why the Labour Party Council went with a process that seemed design to exonerate the staffer (he got a lawyer and got to see what they said, and they didn’t get to see what he said or even transcripts of what their own testimony)

This has nothing to do with whether or not the staffer is guilty of what has been alleged. It is possible he is as pure as the driven snow, and all these people complaining about him have some vested interest to damage him. It is highly unlikely, based on 12 different complainants, but the point is making a decision on the political situation is not linked to whether or not he did something wrong.

I’ll give an example involving myself. In 1996 Jim Bolger had a terrible TV debate, not helped by most National supporters being too polite to heckle, so the TV only showed Bolger being heckled, not Clark, Anderton or Peters.

As someone who was known to be a very active heckler (Paul Holmes threatened to evict me from one debate) I was asked by the PMs Office to train up the National supporters attending the next debate in heckling. So I duly prepared a sheet of my best heckles (funny not abusive I go for) and trained up the 30 – 40 attendees at the next debate.

Unfortunately someone gave a copy of my sheet of heckles to a Labour MP who anonymously distributed it around the entire press gallery. And it had my name on it. The TV news the night of the 2nd debate led with my sheet of heckles and how this showed how worried Bolger was (I doubt he even knew about the request to me). They even had someone read out my heckles on TV, and showed file footage of me.

I was summoned to McCully’s office and in a calm and polite voice (think the opposite of what I am writing) told I should get off the precinct and not come back. I think the words “dumbest fuck who ever lived” might have been used.

Now note I had done nothing wrong. I did what the PMs Office asked me to. It wasn’t my fault someone leaked them. But there was a very good chance I would lose my Beehive job over it because if staffers have to take the fall to protect the PM, you do. The PM was pretty furious too I am told.

In the end it calmed down, and I returned to my job in a week or so. But the point is that decisions like this are inherently political – do we need someone to go to kill the story off.

And this leads to the Labour leader’s office staffer who was accused of sexual assault, plus multiple other complaints. If this guy was the office clerical assistant, he would have been gone months ago. Doesn’t matter about proving the complaints – the mere fact 12 people have complained mean you’re become a liability if you are effectively employed by the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

At the point the complainants went public, it would be an absolute no brainer. You have a choice of a scandal that affects your core brand involving the Labour leader, President, Finance Minister and NZ Council. Of course you get rid of the staffer.

At the point when four of your own Ministerial staff have gone to Paula Bennett because they are so horrified Labour have taken no action, the decision is not just obvious but over whelming. Unless there are reasons why Labour were prepared to risk all this damage for this staffer.

He finally finally went, only after the PM herself was left morally and semi-mortally exposed. A decision that should have happened months ago, was delayed until the damage was done.

Now this wasn’t just due to incompetence, even though that is part of the story. This was beyond doubt a deliberate decision by the Labour decision makers that this staffer would be protected. Because otherwise he’d have been goneburger months ago (regardless of whether or not he has actually done anything wrong).

So why did Labour try to protect him for so long. There are four reasons. In ascending order of importance they are:

  1. He had held senior office within sections of the party. He wasn’t just a party member. He had been a high ranking member of a certain section.
  2. He has a family member who has a professional association with Labour, which is very very long-standing and incredibly valuable to them.
  3. He had very close connections with senior Ministers. More specifically he had been on the 2014 leadership campaign team of Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern. Leadership campaign teams generally are very small – less than a dozen. So that means you are very very tight with those people. He was as well connected as you could be.
  4. His role in the Labour Leader’s office was very valuable to them. Some roles are quite generic such as press secretary. If you lose a press secretary you can find a dozen others who can do the job. But certain roles are highly specialised, and can involved you getting to know certain systems so that you are almost irreplaceable. In this case his role was integral to Labour’s re-election activities.

So this wasn’t just Labour being incompetent. This was Labour making a calculated decision that they would try and brazen this out, because he had the right friends, and was so valuable to them in his job. The impact on the complainants and victims was a secondary or even tertiary factor.

Just imagine if he was not a party office holder, was not mates with senior Ministers and did not hold a critically valuable role in terms of targeting information to voters. Do you really think he wouldn’t have been goneburger months ago after 12 different people complaining about you?

This article was first published on Kiwiblog HERE.