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Chris Ford: Len Brown part of nasty political war that will heat up come next year

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is the victim of a nasty political war that will only heat up as the 2014 General Election approaches.

Evidently, Mayor Brown committed serious ethical breaches. He should never have accepted (even if they had been declared) hotel room upgrades, especially from Sky City, and other multinational chains. He should have been absolutely upfront when the affair first surfaced about these matters. Admittedly, this has given the political right huge ammunition to use against him.

Also, the events of this past week have uncovered the lack of support that Brown has within sections of the left. His ambivalent stance over the Ports of Auckland dispute and his support of the Sky City Convention Centre deal have seen his support on the left fall away considerably. No wonder, then, that a series of high profile left leaning candidates (including John Minto) opted to stand for the city's mayoralty this year. Furthermore, left-leaning blogger and journalist Selwyn Manning called on Brown to stand down in a Daily Blog posting this week, signalling that even among centre-leftists the embattled mayor is beginning to lose ground.

Hence, devoid of any covering support from sections of the left, Brown is more exposed than ever to continuing assault from the right. That's why the bullets flying in Brown's direction from the right are beginning to lodge a lot more than they did previously.

And the bullets kept coming this week when the New Zealand Herald came out against Brown (following, incidentally, a campaign on Cameron Slater's Whale Oil blog for Herald subscribers to ditch their subscriptions) and when he lost key votes on implementing a living wage for council workers. Even more tellingly, he was subjected to a full frontal attack by Justice Minister (and Cameron Slater ally) Judith Collins. The fact that Collins did so suggests to me, as I wrote back when this affair was first revealed, that elements of the social conservative right want to get rid of Brown, despite his backing for the Convention Centre deal and his helpful fence sitting on the Ports of Auckland dispute. What I think that sections of the Nats would secretly like to do is to see the early end of Brown especially given that he successfully lobbied the Nats into giving Auckland a much needed rail loop system. Clearly, sections of the Nats don't want to run the risk of having an effective centre-left mayor, who might demand that even more costly infrastructural projects be built, remain in office. Seeing that sections of the left have now deserted the mayor, the conservative right is seizing its chance.

Moreover, all of the above factors have reminded me and other commentators of the similarities to the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair. Back in 1998, the Republican Right in America went after Clinton whom at first lied and then eventually confessed to having extramarital liaisons with his former White House aide, Lewinsky. The Republicans thought that the Lewinsky Affair would topple Clinton thereby weakening the Democrats at the next election. In one respect, they achieved their goal through the very narrow election of George W. Bush in 2000 but on another level they failed in that Clinton was censured but not ousted from office by Congress - just as Brown (and rightly so) was formally censured by his Council but didn't resign on Thursday.

The fact that sections of the hard conservative right want Brown gone leads me to the view that he should remain in office. I believe that while he has ethically and politically transgressed, he should stay on, simply as a means of thumbing his nose at sections of the right who do want him gone immediately. The mayor probably now realises that his opponents have gone beyond seeking his removal for not just moral reasons but for politically advantageous  ones as well. Besides, if Brown resigned for the simple fact that he had an affair and committed ethical wrongs, that would set off a precedent that could be exploited just as equally and effectively by the centre-left at both the local and national levels. That's why I'm saying that the right shouldn't start a trend which might see many good politicians, on both the right and left, and of all genders and sexual orientations lose their posts or be severely tarnished simply because of the fact they had an extramarital affair. If that rule of thumb applied, then hundreds of good local and national politicians, of all political persuasions, would be out of office. Put simply, New Zealanders don't do politics American style and nor should we go there. Otherwise, who would be left to serve or would want to serve in political office - perhaps the only type of person who would in that scenario might be of the self declared moralistic type - someone like Colin Craig for example??

But the risk of this won't stop the political right from besmirching not just Brown but other left wing politicians in what will be a vicious general election campaign next year. If they can get away with weakening Brown, they will reason, then we can potentially undermine the left in their push for power.

In saying all this, I'm not dismissing how hurtful affairs outside of established relationships are either. They are hurtful and distressing, particularly for the partner being aggrieved against and, for this reason, I really feel for Brown's wife Shan Inglis. Her husband's affair and other wrongdoings have been exposed for all the country to see.  And I also feel very sorry for Bevan Chuang who has been the real victim in all this abandoned by not only Len Brown but those others who used her in this affair, including those who broke the story, namely, Cameron Slater, his website sidekicks, and her other former lover Luigi Wegewege. I believe that Chuang shouldn't be victimised by having roles withdrawn from her as reported today in the Herald on Sunday. I strongly feel that she is being stereotyped in a very sexist way by sections of the media and especially by those who are dropping her from roles she has obviously worked hard in. That's why I think that if Brown (a male) can stay in office despite his affair with her, then so should Chuang be reinstated to all her previous roles.

In the end run, Brown is responsible for his mistakes and he's made some bloody serious ones. But do they meet the immediate resignation test? In my view, no, they don't. However, do they meet the stand down at the next election test? In my view, yes, they do. That's why I think Brown would be best advised to come back in the New Year, still morally atoneful but at the same time give the hard rightists a good dressing down and then make amends with the left by showing some real fortitude over the living wage and Ports of Auckland dispute as well as reneging on his support of the Sky City Convention Centre. If he did all that, then Brown would have the left's backing to come back at his right wing opponents and finish his second (and most likely final) term in a stronger position than when he began it.

NB: One more thing: I can't help but pass comment on either is the call by Auckland Councillor Dick Quax that Brown shouldn't greet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they visit next year due to his extramarital escapades. Most people know  that I am no fan of the Royal Family but the decision has been made and they should be appropriately welcomed by civic dignatiries, including Brown. And if it hasn't escaped Quax's attention, didn't William's father have a much publicised affair with his now wife, Camilla? And, if I'm right, isn't Charles still the official Heir to the Throne of the United Kingdom and of other Commonwealth realms including New Zealand despite his own dalliances? I think Quax's calls are just nonsense and don't make sense at all. They are just simple grandstanding designed to keep media attention on the Brown affair during the media's silly season.









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