Knives out for Phil Goff after Darren Hughes resigns

Phil Goff announcing today that he had accepted MP Darren Hughes' resignation.
Phil Goff announcing today that he had accepted MP Darren Hughes' resignation.

The Labour Party is in turmoil, with senior figures questioning leader Phil Goff's judgment over the Darren Hughes affair and a crucial frontbench meeting on Monday and Tuesday likely to discuss the issue.

In an attempt to lessen the damage, Mr Goff yesterday accepted Mr Hughes' offer to resign from Parliament after earlier declining to accept it.

It came hours after revelations that a naked man, covering his genitals, was seen close to where the MP lives, only a few hours after he brought home an 18-year-old at the centre of a sex complaint. Mr Hughes has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Criticism of Mr Goff has focused on his decision not to suspend Mr Hughes immediately when he was told about the allegation lodged against him by the first-year student at Victoria University. Instead he sat on the information for two weeks and did not discuss it with the party leadership or wider caucus till it was revealed by The Dominion Post.

Mr Goff has defended his actions, saying the allegation could have been unhelpful to the police inquiry, set off a storm of controversy, and would not have helped Mr Hughes or the complainant.

Yesterday he dismissed talk of a move on his leadership as "bullshit" and said he had received no criticism of his handling of the affair and expected none.

But one of the party's rising stars, who asked not to be named, said next week's meeting was likely to crystallise how angry MPs were over Mr Goff's handling of the issue and whether there was the will for a leadership challenge.

"It depends if people like Charles Chauvel, Shane Jones, David Parker and Trevor Mallard have the balls to say something."

Sources said the appointment of Mt Albert MP David Shearer to the plum education job, after Mr Hughes was stood down, had only made the matter worse.

"How much consultation was there on that? There are already those in the 2008 intake who were brooding about being overlooked," one source said.

Mr Shearer, seen as hand-picked by Mr Goff, was elected in 2009 after a by-election in former prime minister Helen Clark's seat.

Party president Andrew Little, who steps down on April 2 and is running for Parliament, is thought to be furious at not being told about the accusations against Mr Hughes, which he heard from reporters.

He confirmed yesterday that Mr Goff had not told him, but said he had no other comment.

However, a senior party source said something as important to the reputation of the party as the police investigation into Mr Hughes should have been passed on to Mr Little.

Several MPs said yesterday that it had been difficult for Mr Goff, who had two roles, as a leader and as a friend of Mr Hughes.

All denied a leadership spill was imminent, with some blaming Government supporters for seeding an untrue story. "It's just smoke signals; nothing serious yet." One prominent MP said no-one had approached him suggesting a leadership change, and a coup attempt would "kiss goodbye" to the election.

Speculation about a possible replacement for Mr Goff has centred around Mr Parker, finance spokesman David Cunliffe, health spokesman Grant Robertson and Mr Jones.

Deputy leader Annette King could also be in the mix, though her close friendship with Mr Hughes may undermine her chances. He boards with her and her husband when he is in Wellington, and the alleged incident occurred in her house.

The Dominion Post