The Dom Post editorial:
The Mt Albert by-election has delivered a much-needed fillip to Phil Goff’s leadership of the Labour Party.
Not only did Labour candidate David Shearer win, he won handsomely. National’s post-election aura of invincibility has been shattered and Labour’s activists now have grounds to hope their party can mount a challenge in 2011, particularly if National blunders as badly in that campaign as it did in Mt Albert.
The morale boost is significant. It reassures Labour activists that unlike (for example) the UK Tories in 1997, they have not had a fundamental disconection from the electorate. It does signify that National is not assured of 2011. On the other hand Labour may read too much into it, and think this means that they can win in 2011 with little change from 2008.
But the political capital earnt in Mt Albert has been squandered in the Richard Worth affair. The bare facts suggest that, too, has been a victory for Labour. Dr Worth, under investigation by police for an alleged sexual offence, has been forced to quit Parliament as well as the executive, because of separate allegations brought to public attention by Mr Goff.
Those allegations are that Dr Worth embarrassed and traumatised a recent migrant to New Zealand with unwanted sexual advances and that, “in pursuit of romantic ambitions”, he offered her government jobs. The latter, if proven, would be indefensible, but it was the former that Mr Goff chose to highlight, painting Dr Worth’s alleged victim as a “strikingly beautiful”, somewhat unworldly, woman who had to ask her husband what the Xs with which Dr Worth allegedly concluded his text messages meant.
The portrait suggests someone unfamiliar with Western ways. But it does not fit with that of Labour activist Neelam Choudary, later revealed as the object of Dr Worth’s admiration. Labour insiders and reporters who encountered her on the campaign trail with Helen Clark say she is forthright and confident and presumably capable of deflecting the unwelcome attentions of an ageing MP.
Also missing from Mr Goff’s portrait of Dr Worth’s victim was any mention of the fact that her husband, Kumar Akkineni Choudary, was last year convicted of charging Indian and Chinese immigrants thousands of dollars for non-existent job offers.
And has carried on offending by registering as a company director, despite being ineligible for five years.
If true, Dr Worth’s attentions were boorish and unwelcome, but it is not against the law for an older man, even a married one, to make a fool of himself over a younger woman. Nor does doing so disqualify those involved from holding political office. If it did, there would be a mass exodus from Parliament.
The known facts suggest Mr Goff overstated Dr Worth’s sins in an attempt to besmirch his reputation and, by association, that of his leader, John Key. In doing so he has damaged his own reputation by showing he is prepared to throw political muck.
From the party that brought you the H Fee.
Mr Key, by comparison, looks prime ministerial. He knew Ms Choudary’s identity, and presumably of her husband’s conviction, but there is no evidence to suggest he is responsible for either coming to light. Meantime, he has forced Dr Worth’s resignation as a minister and made his future prospects appear so unattractive that Dr Worth has quit politics.
And this is quite remarkable. Imagine if Labour were Government and the complainant against a Minister was an aspiring National Party candidate, whose husband was a convicted fraudster. I would mortgage my house on the certainity that her identity would have been leaked from the Government within hours.
However, Mr Key has also had a chequered few weeks. Melissa Lee, National’s Mt Albert candidate, was sent into the by-election hopelessly ill-prepared and, when the polls turned against her, abandoned by her party.
If Mr Key could not be at her side on Saturday night, he should have ensured plenty of other colleagues were. Loyalty cuts two ways.
It wasn’t a good look.