The Barclay issue unravels - attention turns to English
By Richard Harman (author)
Prime Minister Bill English has thrown the whole Todd Barclay affair into confusion with a series of what appear to be contradictory statements which he now refuses to clarify.
Eyebrows are being raised within National's caucus and its party at the way English is managing the affair.
The core of the problem is a statement English made to the police in April last year in which he said Barclay told him that he had recorded conversations involving his staff with a hidden recorder.
English yesterday said that in the same conversation Barclay offered to play him the recording.
The website “Newsroom” said it had also obtained text messages sent in February last year by English to the electorate chair, Stuart Davie, stating that Barclay recorded Dickson in late 2015.
In the texts, English who was deputy Prime Minister at the time, said Barclay recorded Dickson by leaving a dictaphone running in her office
The problem is that Barclay's only real public statement on the matter came "only days after" English sent the texts.
At his electorate's Gore branch AGM, at which Davie was present, and challenged by members he denied that he had made the recording.
Despite that, English made his statement to the police maintaining two months later that Barclay had told him the recordings had been made.
But on Saturday English told TV3's "The Nation” that he was not sure the recording existed.
Asked about this at a press conference yesterday, English said: "I know what I was told and I passed that information to people who had the formal power of the law to investigate, and they came to a point where they could not lay charges.”
But on Saturday on TV3’s “The Nation”, English said: “The fact of a recording has never actually been established. The police investigated, came to no conclusion, no court decision.”
Challenged to reconcile the two statements, English said he could only say that the matters had been dealt with by the police.
That, however, is a bit disingenuous because if the police conclusion --- that there were no charges to answer --- was the final word, then why was Barclay effectively sacked?
Some details of how that was done have leaked out.
POLITIK has been told that the deputy Prime Minister, Paula Bennett, on Wednesday morning, gave Barclay an ultimatum that either he resign or at 2.00 p.m. when Parliament sat, the Prime Minister would declare he had no confidence in him.
There is considerable sympathy for Barclay both within the caucus and around the party board table where some people were familiar with the persistent series of allegations levelled against him by the so-called “evil six” group of Clutha-Southland party members who opposed him being the MP.
That group is said to have been close to English when he was the Clutha-Southland MP.
One board member told POLITIK the complaints were so frequent and vexatious that the board found it difficult to take them seriously.
“Newsroom” yesterday reported that the group had written nine letters to the board making various allegations about why they believed Barclay was unsuitable to be the local MP.
Barclay sympathisers believe that what happened was that Barclay, fed up with his staff and the allegations they were said to be making around the electorate about him, confronted one, Glenys Dickson, and claimed he had a recording of her.
The supporters say this was a bluff which then got out of hand when he also told Bill English.
But if that was the case, why did he offer to play it to English?
It also doesn’t explain how Parliamentary Services came to believe that there was a recording which was why they apparently agreed to make a payout to Dickson for the loss of privacy involved in the recording.
Barclay has not helped matters by refusing to co-operate with the initial police inquiry. English said yesterday that at the time he had advised him to co-operate.
He has however been cleared of other allegations made by his opponents; that he stacked his selection meeting with people not qualified to be delegates.
The party's board asked the former minister, Kate Wilkinson, to investigate that and at its meeting on Thursday received her report and found there was no case for Barclay to answer on that issue.
Meanwhile, the tensions within the electorate are playing out over selecting the candidate to replace Barclay.
Barclay’s opponents, who wanted the Hong Kong merchant banker Simon Flood, who challenged Barclay for re-selection last year, to be the MP have apparently already sounded out the party hierarchy about him standing again for the nomination.
That’s the last thing MPs and board members want to happen because they believe it will simply intensify the already-existing split in the electorate.
Party sources say there are at least five candidates in the wings who might be suitable.
Meanwhile, MPs are wondering what actually happened and why the party leadership struck back at Barclay so quickly.
MPs who are sympathetic to him cite trips they have made to his electorate and the reception he appeared to get from many there.
One senior Minister said that ultimately the problem could be boiled down to the differences between Gore and Queenstown. Barclay had proposed that more office resources be devoted to Queenstown rather than Gore and the Gore office staff had questioned that decision which would mean they would lose some income.
All of this overshadowed English’s speech to his party’s annual conference over the weekend.
That wasn’t surprising.
The speech itself traversed familiar territory.
As National MPs have been suggesting since the TPP debate, the Government was going to go into this election as an outward looking Government, ready to promote the benefits of globalisation to New Zealand
English put it starkly: “You can choose a New Zealand which is open to trade, open to investment, happy to have Kiwis stay home and embraces the challenges of growth.
“Or you can choose an unruly alliance of Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First.
“A miserable group that finds growth frightening, that wants to shut down investment, shut down trade, shut down growth and shut down opportunity.
“They would rather New Zealand slowed down to their pace.
“Well, we’re going with ambition, success and opportunity.”
But first, the Prime Minister needs to get his own house in order.