Todd Barclay saga symptomatic of National’s attitude

After 18 months of rumbles, a scandal that National has been trying to keep the lid on, has finally erupted to the surface in all of its muddiness.

The saga of Todd Barclay is not new. I heard rumours that Mr Barclay may have committed acts of a questionable nature over a year ago, which were backed up by odd story here and there in the media. The media interest has been haphazard, flaring up when a new claim or twist to the story has come out, only to die again within a matter of days.

But what are those claims?

Mr Barclay admitted that he had wiretapped a senior agent for National in the Clutha-Southland electorate. Anyone who intercepts private communications of another individual intentionally with an interception device is liable to be imprisoned for not more than 2 years.

In other words by wiretapping Ms Dickson, Mr Barclay has committed a criminal offence.

So how do the matter come to this?

Todd Barclay was elected to Parliament in 2014, after the then Deputy Prime Minister Bill English decided only to stand as a list Member of Parliament. Being No. 2 in National’s line up this meant he would be automatically returned. It also meant that a new candidate could be stood in Clutha-Southland electorate by National.

In January 2016 the saga began.

Mr Barclay’s refusal to co-operate with the police might have ended his career. However, by prolonging the saga Mr Barclay has shown an appalling lack of foresight. It has now become something that the public will be interested in – a story that is going to get worse both for him and Mr English before it gets better. In election year such problems as this are filthy stinky mud that the Opposition can fling at the Government and there is no doubt in my mind that plenty of mud from this saga is going to be flying in the next few weeks.

The best thing Mr Barclay can do now is resign and National stand a fresh candidate in the electorate. A refusal to resign should be taken by the electorate as a person not fit to hold an elected position bring that into disrepute. Clutha Southland is one of the bluest electorates in New Zealand. It falling to another party would be like expecting Labour to lose Christchurch East or Mt Albert.

However it remains to be seen what impact this will have on voters preferences on polling day. If they have forgotten, the real loser will be the integrity of public office in New Zealand.

Have the Greens peaked?

It is sad to say so, as getting a few more seats would certainly be advantageous for the left-wing of New Zealand politics, but the Greens seem unable to advance beyond their current 14 seats.

There is no doubt that the Greens much coveted position is to be a respected coalition partner for Labour. With no other credible party on the left to assist Labour, it is imperative that the Greens establish themselves as *that* partner. The far left wing of their party might feel alienated and concerned about dealing with a party that is pro-trade and seems happy to occasionally deploy the New Zealand military overseas. However politics is about the art of the deal and compromise is an essential skill, which is something the Green Party should know by now.

Whereas Labour back benchers apparently have good relations with the New Zealand First caucus,.how much has been done to reach some sort of working arrangement with the Greens?

Could the Greens also make some sort of peace with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters? In fairness to them, Mr Peters is a social conservative and has never quite shown the respect that has been due the third largest party in New Zealand. The idea of “Black Green 2014” being a motivating catch cry unfortunately came unstuck for a lack of willingness despite similarities in several policies between the two parties to work together.

It is not like their party is lacking talent. It has Gareth Hughes as its energy spokesperson and Julie Anne Genter as its transport spokeswoman. Both are young, well liked and well educated and know their portfolio’s inside out. Their candidates standing at this election are also among the most diverse ever fielded and include Golriz Ghahraman, a human rights lawyer from Iran. None of this guarantees seats around the Cabinet table

For all their strengths, it is unfortunate to note that the Greens have an annoying habit of occasionally shooting their mouths off. Random comments about one issue or another on a particular day have misjudged the public sentiments or come across as kowtowing to one party or another, and in doing so have lodged in their memories, to have consequences for the Greens on polling day.

The Greens are an essential part of the New Zealand political landscape. Although I am too conservative for them when it comes to foreign policy, defence, justice and the economy, I can see several other policy areas of the Greens working out very well for New Zealand. To lose the Greens or see them unable to grow any further puts a lot of pressure on the left-wing of New Zealand politics that is simply not needed.

Labour is going to have to hope that it can resolve its own problems and make inroads into National in the next four months. If it can half of the challenge of forming a Government has been achieved. The other half one of the other parties will be there to make up the numbers when New Zealand First decides what form the next Government will take. And that might well mean the Greens needing more seats.


Labour has four months

127 days. In just 127 days New Zealand will head for the polls. At the end of Election Day, Labour will find out whether or not it is doomed to spend a fourth, possibly permanently crippling, term on the Opposition benches.

That night New Zealand will make a historic choice:

Does it want a Labour Party still stuck in first gear nearly full terms after it was defeated in the 2008 election, leaving it with no clear successor to former Prime Minister Helen Clark? This is a party that has been led by Phil Goff, now mayor of Auckland; David Shearer who gave up his United Nations job in Africa to come back to New Zealand, and has since decided to return to Africa; David Cunliffe, who after succeeding Mr Shearer, and leading Labour to a catastrophic defeat has retired from politics.

Or does it want a National Party that somehow seems to still have the teflon touch of former leader and Prime Minister John Key, where no matter what got flung at it, nothing stuck? This is a party that has navigated through three terms with no clear vision other than economic growth, keeping its backers happy all the while letting housing, violent crime, mental health, environmental issues and dodgy military forays at the request of the United States.

I predict that if Labour gets rolled in the election there will be a general purge. Few will be spared. Mr Little will be just one of a wave of M.P.’s heading for the door. The knives are still sharp from the 2014 election and there will be a fair few in the party braying for blood. The need for fresh ideas, faces, and a change in direction plus a willingness to be brave and stand up for Labour principles is loud and clear enough now, but few seem to be paying attention.

But let us suppose the miracle that Labour needs, actually happens. Let us suppose that just for whatever reason, Labour lead the centre-left to victory and are in a position where they plus the Greens are able to comfortably form a coalition with New Zealand First help. Winston Peters might despise the Greens, but the party has good relations with Labour, and there are many many people in the New Zealand First party who have no desire to see a fourth term National-led Government. Some will be wanting to see Mr Peters get revenge for being outed in 2008 by denying National a fourth term Government.

But let us be honest.

On current performance, the only way Labour will see the ninth floor of the Beehive is either with significant New Zealand First and Green Party help, or a miracle of major portions.

127 days Labour.

That’s all you have.

Alfred Ngaro does a favour highlighting National’s arrogance

Every so often, one will witness a Member of Parliament accidentally shooting the mouth off in a burst of complete nonsense. It might come out of frustration with how their day is coming or be intended as a cheap political points scoring exercise. Whatever the motivation, every time an M.P. is interviewed, s/he is on show, making their best pitch to New Zealand – everything they say is subject to being broken down and analyzed; every action feted or rued.

It is like a tight rope over a pool and the M.P. has no idea what lies in the waters, but a sneakily placed microphone or other recording device – as the infamous cup of tea at a cafe in Auckland showed – can cause a packet of grief.

Over that time, emboldened by a weak Opposition where sometimes the most effective opponent has been the leader of the fourth largest party in Parliament, the perceived arrogance began to grow. It was not helped by a media establishment that went ga-ga over the Prime Minister. With a Speaker of the House only too happy to do some dirty work for National, when he should have acted like the neutral House official he was supposed to be, it is possible that Mr Ngaro became detached from reality.

Unfortunately Alfred Ngaro’s comments were not the first outburst from a National Party Member of Parliament. Many will remember the commentary that erupted from the mouth of the National Party-list Member of Parliament Aaron Gilmore during dinner at a hotel in Hanmer Springs where Mr Gilmore got angry and insulted staff who refused to serve his group. It caused national outrage and led to Mr Gilmore resigning from Parliament after a second, pre-Parliament incident came to light regarding inappropriate e-mails being sent by Mr Gilmore.

Other comments come from Prime Minister John Key. Mr Key, in a fit of irritation with the Human Rights Commission hinted that if the Commission did not pull itself into line, he might see fit to ensure that the funding it had at the time from the Government would be its last. The comments came after the Human Rights Commission criticized a Bill of Parliament going through the House regarding the conduct of the spy agencies and the scope of proposed changes.

So, thank you very much Mr Ngaro. You have epitomized, however unintentionally, what so many people find off putting about National as a party. Whether we as a nation remember this unfortunate incident in September is another question altogether.

Winston rising, National indifferent and Labour idling

Just under five months out from the election, the winds of change are definitely blowing, but the weather system driving the winds is still some distance away.

The party that has the most to smile about is New Zealand First, whose Annual Convention is in Auckland on 15-16 July 2017. Slowly but steadily the trajectory of New Zealand First in the polls has been upwards – the latest Roy Morgan poll had New Zealand First on 10.5% which would just about get the party a 13th seat in Parliament.

Its Members of Parliament have been working steadily all term. Palmerston North List M.P. Darroch Ball has been scoring hits on the social welfare policies of National. Tracey Martin has made a good go of holding Education Minister Hekia Parata to account. Fletcher Tabuteau can take credit for his work trying to get the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement grounded for good. It will have to work hard this election because the party does not have major financial backers like the Greens, Labour and National do. And yet its trajectory is the single most likely thing to derail a fourth term for National.

After 8 years of Prime Minister John Key’s leadership wooing centrist New Zealanders, Maori voters with his easy going “aw shucks” persona, current Prime Minister Bill English is starting to gain a reputation as “Boring Bill”. His devout Catholicism and preference for the more traditional National ideology of farmers and business first, tougher on criminal offending will have pleased the right wing of National, but it is doing nothing to woo the centrist voters that will be necessary to ensure National win the hugely coveted fourth term.

National have much work ahead of them. Concerns about crime, housing, health and education are all slowly bleeding support. Environmental issues, the escalating international tensions and a wish to restart trade deals that New Zealanders oppose give the impression of a Government that is disinterested in the concerns of a growing number of voters. In any election year it is not a good idea ignore them. In an election year where the reward is a nearly unprecedented fourth term this could be a fatal miscalculation.

After eight years of sitting on the Opposition benches, one would think that Labour would be battle ready and the most dangerous party in the House. Some say Labour are “crusin’ for a bruisin'”, suggesting another electoral disaster is on the way. It has not yet made any substantive policy announcements. It’s caucus renewal does not seem to be happening very fast compared to their Green Party allies, who have announced an interesting array of candidates.

But there are some promising signs showing. Granted they were pretty easy to take, and failure to do would have been hugely damaging to Leader Andrew Little’s control of the party, Labour’s victory in the New Lynn and Mt Albert by elections would have been confidence boosters. And its appointment of Jacinda Ardern who took the Mt Albert by election as Deputy Leader acknowledges the need for a strong leadership team. However they must now press on, announce some substantive and bold policies, and get some potent candidates announced. The clock is ticking.

The overall appearance of the New Zealand political scene going into the election is of weather on a day where the air is definitely unstable, but nothing yet overtly happening. How much longer that will last, time will tell.