Leaked National Party report clears Barclay
By Richard Harman (author)
POLITIK has learned that the National Party’s Board as recently as last Thursday agreed to a report clearing Todd Barclay of charges that he was not suitable to be a National MP.
The Board considered the report less than 24 hours after Barclay had been pressured into announcing his retirement because of allegations he had secretly (and illegally) taped his electorate staff's conversations in their office.
What was already a confusing state of affairs with Prime Minister Bill English telling the police the taping had taken place and then saying he didn’t know whether any tape existed has now become even more complicated?
The committee says the electorate selection meeting last December knew of the allegations against Barclay but still voted for him.
“That he was successfully elected indicates that most delegates did not consider prior conduct or events significant for them not to wish to vote for him," the report says.
The report was prepared for the party’s Rules Committee by three lawyers --- the former Minister, Kate Wilkinson; veteran Waikato official, Ian Davidson and former Nelson electorate chair John Sandston.
POLITIK has been leaked a copy of the report.
The report specifically deals with a complaint about the process which saw Barclay re-selected as candidate last December.
That selection was contested by Hong Kong- based merchant banker, Simon Flood but the report makes it clear that Flood was not involved in the complaint.
"It is interesting that he would have been the person with the most to gain (or lose) from any alleged flawed process - yet he does not feature in either the complainants' case or the selection organisers' case," the report says.
The eight complainants who signed the letter (dated 23 February) included three of the so-called “evil six” who campaigned against Barclay including Glenys Dickson, the former electorate agent who alleges she was the subject of the illegal taping.
Their complaint centred on what they alleged were irregularities during the re-selection process last year.
These were arcane issues about whether the correct quorums had been present at branch meetings to select delegates to the actual selection meeting.
Wilkinson’s committee found after an exhaustive examination of branch records that no delegates were ineligible.
They also held two phone conferences in April with the complainants and local and regional party officials and the aprty's Wellington-based General manager, Greg Hamilton.
There were other matters apart from the quorum allegations.
Because of a mistake in the printing of the ballot paper, Barclay’s name was in capital letters and Flood’s in lower case.
There were other allegations about the ballot paper which the committee said “border on hyperbolic licence.”
“The real question is whether despite the difference in uppercase/lower case was it understood by voting delegates that it was a choice between the two candidates.
“In answer to that question on our conference telephone call with the complainants the response was ‘of course we did, we are not silly.’”
The committee said that while the mistake on the ballot paper was regrettable, it was no sufficient to render the process unfair.
There were complaints about the questions asked at “Meet the Candidates” meetings which the complainants claimed favoured Barclay, but the Committee rejected that.
There were complaints about the seven MPs who attended the final selection meeting Those MPs included Health Minister Jonathan Coleman; Chief Whip Jami-Lee Ross and MPs Todd Muller, Matt Doocey and Sarah Dowie.
There were claims the MPs “actively influenced” support for Barclay.
Ironically the selection took place only 14 days after Coleman had challenged English for the National Party leadership.
Some of the complaints about Barclay’s selection were strong supporters of English before he resigned as the electorate's MP in 2014.
But the report says the party could not and should not ban open endorsement of candidates.
"We can, however, insist and require proper fair processes.
"That does not mean that because one candidate may garner more support than another that the process is unfair.
"If voting delegates have been subjected to undue influence or duress or have been coerced by some to vote against their will then that is not an acceptable process.
"If they are hoodwinked by the political rhetoric that is the nature of political debate."
The committee found no delegates were coerced or pressured.
The committee was also asked to look into some Whaleoil blog entries --- which they declined to do and then to look at whether Barclay was eligible to be a National MP.
This centred on his signature on his nomination form declaring that he "knew of nothing that could embarrass the National Party."
the complainants obviously listed a number of incidents that they thought the committee should consider.
But the committee said these incidents were in the public arena and known to the pre-selection panel members.
(National candidate must first go before a pre-selection committee before they face the wider selection meeting.)
The committee says the pre-selection deliberations were secret, but by allowing both candidates to go to selection, there were obviously no issues of suitability.
"It is our role to look into the selection process not to make judgement on police investigations," the report says.
"We do note that ultimately the voting delegates did not have to vote for Todd and if the majority of voting delegates were sufficiently concerned then logically they would not have voted for him.
"That he was successfully elected indicates that most delegates did not consider prior conduct or events significant enough for them not to wish to vote for him."
Meanwhile, the other candidate at the selection meeting, Simon Flood, is now talking to prominent figures in the National Party and former Beehive staffers about the wisdom of standing.
The danger to the party if he stands is that he may reignite the feuds that have been raging in the electorate since Barclay became the MP.
He will be being advised to keep his distance from the complainants who unsuccessfully brought the complaints about Barclay to the party's board.