Todd Barclay’s resignation not end of Todd-gate

Todd Barclay, Member of Parliament for Clutha-Southland resigned today. His resignation comes as his boss Prime Minister Bill English finds himself under sustained attack for having been economic with the truth about Mr Barclay’s wire tapping of a senior National party agent in his office.

For Mr Barclay to have stayed on as a Member of Parliament would have been to bring the entire New Zealand Parliament into a state of disrepute. It would have been state in which innocent Members of Parliament from other parties would have had their jobs besmirched by one of their number.

No Member of Parliament wants that. No innocent Member of Parliament deserves that.

But there is so much more to this than just what Mr Barclay did. It has turned out that Prime Minister Bill English has not been entirely truthful about what he knew and when he knew. It has turned out that the Prime Minister fund of former leader and Prime Minister John Key was used to pay out dirty money to hide what had happened.

So how much more is there to come out about this sordid affair?

The media have caught whiff of more than just a scandal. They have caught whiff of an event that could bring down the New Zealand Government – if Prime Minister Bill English is made to resign, Paula Bennett would become Prime Minister.

So perhaps our focus should be on asking Bill English to come clean about what he knew and when, and give him a chance to clear things up without making the mistakes that felled Mr Barclay. 92% of New Zealanders wanted Mr Barclay to resign according to a poll done on Facebook. Another poll based on a call from New Zealand First leader Winston Peters for Mr English to resign, at the time of I casting a vote had 81% demanding he do so.

This is a nation saying to a Government past its use by date, that it has had enough. Make no mistake, as there have never been polls in the life span of this Government that have so clearly demanded the Prime Ministers head, that this Government is in major trouble.

Todd Barclay might have entered Parliament with the hope of a high flying political career. He will exit it possibly being the Member for Clutha-Southland who might crash the most popular National-led Government in New Zealand history.

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.

This is what will finish the Government

Someone (I don’t know who) said:

Elections are not won by Opposition parties; the Government loses them.

On the surface this may seem like double speak in that one part of the statement cancels out the other part.

You might call it a creeping malaise and history has shown that with the exception of the Government of Keith Holyoake, no one Government has managed to secure four consecutive terms in office during peace time.

The malaise is something that generally starts to set in shortly after the start of the third term. It is something that might start subconsciously with the members of the governing party knowing that this is probably their last term in office before a spell on the opposition benches begins. It might be a complacency that forms naturally from having won three terms on the trot. Ministers and caucus members alike losing touch with the crucial centre of New Zealand politics. This includes the swing voters that alternate between the major political parties. It also includes interest groups who depending on how charismatic or seemingly clued up a particular party leader may be, can be persuaded to vote.

So how does it go

In the first term – with the exception of Labour in 1957-1960 (Sidney Holland) and 1972-1975 (Norman Kirk/Bill Rowling) – since the advent of the two modern mainstream parties, neither has been a one term wonder. Mr Holland’s Government came down because he made the mistake of not being honest about raising taxes. This is a generally rare event because most parties, despite being keen to get on with their agenda, generally act with a degree of caution. Perceived wrong doings are pounced on and the key ministers are generally quick to try to repair any perceptions of wrongdoing. It is a short lived Minister who fails this test in the first term. The leaders will be fresh and energetic with a vitality that is almost never present in the third term and often starting to show signs of waning in the second term.

The second term, most times is achieved because an Opposition might not have at this point finished their post defeat reorganization. Generally there is a public acceptance of this, which is why although one might see flashes of terrible leadership, it is recognized as coming from an interim Opposition leader who is buying time rather than building up to be Prime Minister. The Government begins to lay down its core agenda in this term. The policies more suited to its core constituents begin to be unveiled. A minor crack here and there might exist but it will probably not be until the third year that it becomes noticeable.

A leader who commands both the respect and of the public and his/her party can quite realistically pull a third term off, though – this government excepted – the margin of victory willl be much close as National leader Don Brash proved. Dr Brash, a former head of the Reserve Bank brought an appeal back to the core of the National party after a 2002 thrashing. However his unapologetically hard line stance on social welfare and Maori issues put off the female and Maori voters. In M.M.P. politics where a degree of compromise with coalition parties is always a necessity, this is where having a rapport with the minor parties and the centre becomes essential. The Government of Prime Minister John Key came close to getting an outright majority, but needed A.C.T., Maori Party and United Future to get it over the line.

At that point giddy with success, Ministers and caucus members alike often lose the plot. This Government is under sustained fire on housing, health, the environment, which despite not being seemingly being able to score notable hits, nevertheless appears relentless.Confident of their invincibility, sloppiness sets in. A degree of arrogance will have taken hold. At this point also the public now have a good idea of where the country is going and whether or not they wish for it to persist. Even if many do wish for it to persist they will be aware of poorly performing Ministers. Bill English has a bevy of these at the moment. In any other term they might be okay, but Simon Bridges trying to hide an Official Information Act request is potentially damaging. Having Gerry Brownlee as Minister of Foreign Affairs is galvanizing the left and more moderate voters.

Top it off with some brazen violations of human rights law; simply amending laws already on the book to cover up misdeeds and stretching grey areas of the law to breaking point and you have a pretty toxic situation

This is what will finish off this particular Government. A Government that increasingly loses any semblance of principle and respectability. It is why I am confident that despite the polls suggesting otherwise, that this Government will end on 23 September 2017.

Not the Opposition.

Economy not that great? Nah, mate she’ll be right.

On Facebook, I see frequent updates from the National Party telling me about all of the things that they want New Zealand to know about. Members of Parliament and Ministers of the Crown state “Great to be at _________ “, “New Zealand has a Government doing _______, _________ and __________ so that __________ can be achieved”. But behind the smiles for the camera and the claims of good things happening, is New Zealand really doing as well as the Government claims?

It is obvious that the economy is not performing as well as the Government suggests. There are several factors that work in conjunction to support this idea:

  1. Immigration is not sustainable
  2. A continuing lack of investment in research, science and technology continues to stymie New Zealand growth just as it has done since before the Fifth Labour Government took power in 1999
  3. Market economics have gone too far and a rebalancing is needed
  4. There is an imbalance both in terms of infrastructure investment geographically, but also in terms of what the investment is in
  5. Councils are not hiring many consents staff to process applications for resource consent – signalling demand for activities such as construction projects are down

Despite this we have people in Government saying that business is as usual and that there should not be any cause for concern. It is true that this could simply be a demonstration of what political analysts call third term-itis, symptomatic of a Government that has run out of ideas and despite outward appearances, knows that this is its last term in office.

I have addressed immigration and its currently unsustainable rate in other articles, but it is useful to note that Labour, a party which normally supports greater levels of immigration is in favour of cutting the numbers let in. It is also a slightly more personal issue in that I have a non-New Zealand sister in law moving out here in December.

The lack of investment in science is not new either. It is one of the primary causes of the average income per capita being relatively mediocre compared to some higher earning locations such as the United States, Britain and Australia. An overly complex system for applying for and dispensing research grants means that instead of focussing on a few key areas, funding has become quite diffuse across a broad spectrum.

When the Government of Mike Moore, who had only been Prime Minister for a few weeks, was ousted in 1990, it was hoped by many that the radical reforms that had shaken up New Zealand in the previous few years would stop. In that time deregulation of the railways, the floating of the currency, among other reforms had been undertaken. Unemployment had soared as “bureaucrats” viewed as surplus to needs had been laid off in large numbers. Reform of environmental and local government was underway. But those hopes were somewhat naive and certainly dashed when the Fourth National Government of Prime Minister Jim Bolger picked up where his predecessors had left off.

An imbalance exists in New Zealand in terms of both the types of infrastructure that need investment and where in geographical terms it needs to happen. Whilst it is true that Auckland has one third of New Zealand’s total population and grows the equivalent of 2015 Tauranga every three years,the rest of New Zealand – even if it wanted to – cannot be Auckland’s ever growing hinterland without good supporting infrastructure. Too often politicians forget this.

One of the primary functions for city, district and regional councils is to determine the suitability of activities and development projects within their area of responsibility. The activities need to be weighted against the planning blue print for the issuing council and put through a set of checks and balances to make sure it is not contrary to the Resource Management Act and other legislation. The people who do this work investing resource consent applications are generally people with experience working in resource planning and have a degree from University to back this up. A good way of determining how well the local economy is doing is finding out how much demand there is for new buildings, and activities – the lesser the demand the implication is that fewer people have money or a need for a project requiring resource consent that can generate jobs and wealth.

And what does the Government think?

Yeah, nah. She’ll be right mate.

Except that she will not be without greater care.

When news is no longer news

Over the last several years I have become concerned at the level of clickbait in the news. The deliberate merging of information and entertainment to become “infotainment” is nothing new. What might be new though is the level of it pervading New Zealand news.

New Zealand’s primary hosting site for such material is Stuff. This is a multimedia site owned by Fairfax. It was primarily established to be a central home online for New Zealand newspapers and indeed the major ones all have a sub page on the website. The content online costs nothing to the user.

However a disturbing rise in what is known as click bait has been noticed. Click bait is a deliberately distracting type article with little or no meaningful knowledge in it, and will be titled something like “Ten photos of female celebrities having wardrobe malfunctions” or “Ten things airline cabin crew want to tell you”. Photographic clickbait is often stronger in terms of visual. They can be found as photo links often somewhat misleading or exaggerated and appear at the bottom of news articles.

The average persons knowledge is in no way enhanced. Certainly other than reducing productivity by distracting the reader from the task at hand, no meaningful transaction of knowledge or action that helps the reader or anybody else is likely – my writing a whole article about this at 0200 in the morning, when I should be in bed, is the exception rather than the norm.

And yet at the same time so much is ignored by New Zealand media. When the London apartment building caught fire, The Press had it as a front page article ringed by a black border – something usually only reserved for disasters of major magnitude such as the Christchurch earthquake or Pike River. But if an apartment building had caught fire in China and killed that many people, few would have said more than “oh, that is terrible” and go back to whatever they were doing.

So much is given to rugby, that many sports that might have otherwise meaningfully gained from the exposure are left to wither. My cousin for example used to play for the New Zealand womens indoor cricket team. She went to Sri Lanka for the Womens Indoor Cricket World Cup in 2003 with them. Did any of you reading this article know that actually happened?

No? Then you certainly would not have known they came 3rd.

I just find it ironic that the merging of infotainment is increasingly starting to fail. People are realizing it is click bait and not clicking on it, or they do, but they then do not any longer share with others stuff that they might have done so in the past. I wonder also where the photos came from – were they taken by paparazzi violating peoples privacy, or legally obtained but with restrictions on use that were then violated for malicious intent? And how many of those articles that have headings like “Ten reasons….” were actually researched at all?