OPINION: Like a nuclear mushroom cloud, the toxic fallout from the Len Brown-Bevan Chuang affair is enveloping everyone within its radius.
No one will come out of this kiss-and-tell well - not the mayor, his former mistress, the journalists who broke the story on the Whale Oil blog or the mayoral rival who has now also been damaged by the actions of an over- ambitious supporter. Down the road in Wellington, meanwhile, MPs are watching warily. You might hear threats on occasion to pull out the dirt file, but the reality is that MPs have for long operated under a cold war-like understanding that should one side ever push the nuclear button, their opponents will fire back. It's the no- survivors scenario and has always been the ultimate deterrent.
For that to operate in practice, of course, a dirt file must be maintained in a state of readiness. Late last week, rumours about two parliamentary affairs were traded. But of course they are just that - rumours. Barring the emergence of a kiss-and-tell player like Ms Chuang, affairs are almost impossible to prove and defamatory if printed without proof.
There is no great tradition in New Zealand of headlining politicians' affairs. Unlike in the United States, we don't tend to judge our politicians on their private lives. They go through marriage break-ups, as do the rest of the population.
Sometimes this will be announced with a short press statement but generally it will create very little interest. That, of course, probably has as much to do with the fact most MPs are hardly household names.
National is said to have polled a while back on name recognition of its Cabinet ministers. The number of voters who could name any of them was apparently in the single digits. What does propel an affair on to the news pages is involvement of a politician who is genuinely well known or important - Mr Brown or former prime minister David Lange, for instance - or when there is an added dimension. Naomi Lange phoning a news desk late at night to spill the beans on her husband having an affair with his speechwriter is a story. A caucus showdown over rumours of an affair, as happened under the leadership of Don Brash, is a story.
And there is the hypocrisy test. When Dr Brash wrote a letter accusing former prime minister Helen Clark of showing disdain for the institution of marriage, he came in for flak because he was twice married himself. When subsequent rumours of an affair emerged, he was flayed.
As for the talk about the Bevan Chuang affair being a Right-wing sting, that may or may not be true, but it is hard to imagine many National MPs thanking the perpetrators. The world they live in is already a glass house. Affairs may or may not pass the public interest or hypocrisy test but the collapse of Cameron Slater's Whale Oil blog under the weight of its readership reaching 50 hits a second suggests the public are plenty interested in the salacious details.
Of course this is not to suggest that a large number of MPs are having affairs, though they probably have more opportunity.
From inside the bubble of Parliament, politicians are as ordinary as the next person and their suits are just as rumpled after a long day - even if those days may be longer and more interesting than the norm. So it is easy to forget that there are men and women who find the power they wield heady and intoxicating.
Ms Chuang admitted it was the power of the mayoralty, rather than the mayor himself, that she found attractive. That story is as old as the hills. It is easy to spot the political groupies. They cluster around politicians and find their jokes hugely amusing - attention the average pollie would never have received in their old life. Anyone's head would be turned.
The next election is shaping up to be every bit as polarising and ugly as the 2005 election - perhaps even uglier, judging by the vitriol hurled from both sides of the House on Thursday sparked by the latest instalment in the John Banks saga.
So all politicians have good reason to fear the Bevan Chuang story as a potential game-changer. Because it is not the affair that has damaged Mr Brown so much as the explicit detail.
As one MP noted, it is the sort of detail that you usually only read on the back of a toilet door. It is hard to imagine a humiliation more complete. Even the characters read like the cast of a B-grade movie. You couldn't make up a name like Luigi Wewege, the alleged other man.
In this case, the revelations were published by a blog whose author is fairly well-known. In that respect Cameron Slater is unusual in the blogosphere; among the proliferation of bloggers these days, most operate under a pseudonym.
In this story, Mr Slater claimed to have the ultimate defence in that it was true. Would a newspaper have printed the story first if it came to them? Undoubtedly, though probably without the prurient detail.
But that is not always the case. A few years back, a rape allegation involving an MP ran for several days on Mr Slater's blog before he declared himself victim of a hoax. It wasn't picked up by traditional media though most chased the story in case it was true.
But a lot has changed. These days, the speed at which stories can go viral means they can land like a bomb in the middle of an election campaign without being picked up by traditional media.
The Bevan Chuang affair may yet signal the moment when politicians lost control of the dirt files and the nuclear arsenal fell into the hands of a rogue state.
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