If you keep your family out of politics, you must be consistent.
In a recent political ‘sex scandal’ Auckland Mayor Len Brown admitted an extra-marital affair early, and asked for the media to lay off his family as he, his wife, and children, worked through the personal side of the matter.
It’s a tactic that has worked for politicians before. Admitting early reduces the more severe fallout of a latter admission or revelation of undeniable evidence.
The request for ‘family time’ is also powerful. It reaches out to the public with the human side of what has happened. It infers that the politician has put his family first. It places the media into the position of getting on the bad side of the public by wronging the politician’s family if they delve deeper.
If the call is made, it must be stuck to. In Len Brown’s case his daughters issued a statement a few days later, defending their father’s political career and claiming the fidelity issue was a personal matter.
While the message was heart-felt, it dealt the kids and the personal life back into the public sphere. You cannot have privacy only when you want it, and publicity only when you want it.
A call for privacy in tough circumstances is hypocritical when the family has been part of the political campaigning in the past. It seems to me better to leave the family out of campaigning right from the start. Firstly, it reduces the potential for family issues to become a political issue. Secondly, being a politician is bad enough for the politician – it seems cruel to make your kids part of it as well. Less so the spouse, who can make a better judgement on it being part of their personal identity, or whether the political career is a shared enterprise (which it very often is).
The message from Brown’s daughter also introduced a little possibility that they, or their father, thought the statement would help the political situation. The idea that they were playing a role in his political salvation was unpleasant to contemplate.
They made their role a public and political one. They should have kept it private, as they and their father had asked of the public.