The questionable wisdom of dealing with Barclay before the election

Rob Hosking writes

Matters such as the Todd Barclay affair leave their scars. The scars are not always visible.

The visible ones, this time, are certainly easy to identify: blemishes to Prime Minister Bill English’s reputation for being – by political standards anyway – a reasonable straight-talker, will not quickly fade.

It also looks very messy. Citizens generally like their governments to project at least an impression of some competence, and this looked sloppy.

Only time will tell if these scars are going to count.  Personally, for Bill English or nationally, for the party.  

At an electorate level, there is clearly a divided Clutha-Southland party organisation, and some of this division is symbolic of a wider division within the National Party.

You can characterise it in crude terms as the division between Queenstown and Dipton: between the wealthy and somewhat flashy new arrivals into the district and the more traditionalist farmers and rural service parts of the National Party coalition.

This is why Mr Peters – never slow to make mischief for his old party and possessing an acute sense of just where the pressure points within the National party coalition are – has been gleefully stirring up more trouble.

Anecdotally, at least some of the disgruntled Clutha-Southland National Party staffers who fell out with Mr Barclay are working, at least informally and on a voluntary basis, for New Zealand First.

And you can take that to other parts of the country, particularly in the more populous fast-growing areas between, roughly, the Hunua Ranges on Auckland’s southern fringes and the Paekakariki hill north of Wellington.

So, this weekend’s National Party conference may contain a bit more tension than is desirable three months out from a tight general election.

If those scars can be soothed with sufficient balm however, the Todd Barclay affair may yet have done National a small favour.

There has been too much complacency in the government. The run of incidents involving arrogant, dismissive or sloppy public performances – from Jonathan Coleman, Maggie Barry, Alfred Ngaro and Nicky Wagner – are not big things on their own.

But coming together, over the past month, they show an increasing high handedness and a belief among too many in the second and third tier of the government that they have the election pretty much in the bag.

The Todd Barclay affair should have jolted them out of that. If nothing else the divisions it has opened up within the party will remind people that if they slip up, other National MPs will be waiting to take advantage.

There could be more scars, yet to be opened up.

The fracturing inside National really became a problem as soon as Bill English took over as leader.  Instead of being a uniting leader like John Key, he is a vindictive one that splits the party into “us and them”.

This does not make of a long-term prospect of a happy National party.

If there is going to be any kind of recovery from recent troubles, it will require a totally difference approach from English.  He’s even rubbed up Steve Joyce and Gerry Brownlee the wrong way in just a few short months.

These scars have a funny way of rupturing when you least expect it.   At this stage, I don’t expect it to happen this side of the election.


– Rob Hosking, RNZ

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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