Todd Barclay steps down

After a day of denials, U-turns and twists, Todd Barclay has stepped down as a candidate for this year's election, as Sam Sachdeva and Shane Cowlishaw report.

Todd Barclay has gone. 

The National MP has announced he won’t be standing as the candidate for Clutha-Southland this election, and will be leaving Parliament at the end of this term.

He’s been brought down amid serious allegations of lies and bullying – but even in his statement just out he doesn’t apologise, describing the events described in Newsroom’s stories since yesterday as “an employment dispute”.

While he thanked a host of his supporters, he didn't say he let them down – just that it had been a hard decision to make, and “it is in the best interests of our Government and the National Party, and I wish the Prime Minister and our team all the best for the General Election”.

“I got into politics because I was inspired by the people I worked for, Bill English, Gerry Brownlee and Hekia Parata. I wanted the opportunity to make my contribution too," he said in a statement this afternoon.

“It was the proudest moment of my life to have been elected the MP for Clutha-Southland. I have been privileged to serve the people of Clutha-Southland’s interests and have thrown my heart and soul into working for them. 

“I have loved getting to know the 34 communities of this electorate and the people and their concerns have been top of my mind for the past three years. I’m proud of the work I have done, and grateful to have worked with so many passionate and amazing people,” he said in the statement. “Thank you.” 

Barclay goes on to say: “I am a proud National Party member. I want to pay tribute to my friends and colleagues in the Party and the National Caucus, who every day are out serving their communities.

“In particular, I want to thank Sarah Dowie, MP for Invercargill, for all her support as we’ve travelled the last three years together.

“I don’t want the issues that are important to Clutha-Southland and all of New Zealand to be distracted by an employment dispute.”

Following a Newsroom investigation, calls had been mounting for the first-term Clutha-Southland MP to stand down and for police to open a new investigation into whether he secretly recorded his former electorate agent Glenys Dickson.

Fronting the media after the news of Barclay’s resignation, Prime Minister Bill English said it was a necessary move so National could “get back to focussing on the issues that matter to the country”.

“He’s made, I think, a very difficult decision for a young politician but it’s the right one…

“He doesn’t want ongoing internal issues to be a distraction either for the Government or for the representation of his own community.”

Asked what had changed in the time since English knew of Barclay’s recordings to force the MP’s resignation, the Prime Minister said "What’s different is I think the statement yesterday morning which Todd acknowledged himself was untrue, and secondly his understanding of the whole situation and how it was affecting him and his credibility and his prospects.”

English said he had not asked Barclay to resign, but was aware he had spoken to “senior colleagues” before making the decision to step down.

He denied he had not done enough once Barclay had spoken to him, or that the situation had been covered up, saying it was up to police to do what they could with his statement.

“I don’t accept the assertion that nothing was done about it - I reported it to the appropriate party official, that’s on the record, the electorate chairman who in our system is the main party official who works with an MP.

“I reported it to the police, because there was the allegation of an offence having been committed, so that was passing on the knowledge to the appropriate authorities to deal with it as they saw fit.

“So there was no element of knowledge of some action that was hidden - it was in fact communicated openly and in fact the allegations around this have been in the media for 18 months to two years.”

English denied the Clutha-Southland revelations had damaged or divided National, arguing it had been dealt with “I think, pretty decisively”.

Asked whether he had any regrets about his own handling of the situation, he said his main regret was that “people I know well fell out so badly”.

“It’s a shame that it’s ended up in this situation and I hope now that with the issue resolved, at least this aspect of the issue resolved, that we can get on with both the business of the Government but also representation of the people in Clutha-Southland who I know well.”

English said he did not know the details of how Barclay would be replaced as the party’s Clutha-Southland candidate, referring questions to National officials.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett said Barclay had been going through a “really hard time”.

He had obviously made mistakes to be in the position he was, but she did not believe the episode reflected badly on the Government.

“When you’ve been in Government for a while you know you’re going to have to deal with some difficult circumstances, there are privacy issues to deal with when you’re working them way through them and sometimes they’re not as tidy as you’d like them to be.”

Bennett said she knew nothing about claims a board member had pressured Dickson to withdraw her complaint to police.

Opposition piles in

Labour leader Andrew Little said the questions did not stop with Barclay’s resignation, considering English knew about the recording for 18 months and stood by while one of his MPs lied to the public.

“Todd Barclay has gone, he’s history … you now have a Prime Minister that knew everything that was going on, intimately acquainted with these matters, did nothing to stop Todd Barclay misleading people over the last 18 months, that is a total failure of leadership on the part of the Prime Minister.”

A National Party cover-up had been exposed, with the party doing everything they could to conceal the details from the public, he said.

There were real questions for the public about whether they could trust the Prime Minister.

“MPs are not like every other citizen, we have enormous privilege, we get to set the rules, we get to decide what resources the police get, we’re different to everybody else and we ought to be exemplary in our conduct.”

He believed there was ample new evidence for the police to re-open the investigation and press forward.

Little was asked what he would do if told by one of his members that he had secretly recorded staff and refused to talk to police conducting an investigation.

“They’d be on the mat very quickly, I’d be wanting to get the details, I’d be telling them you must disclose that to the staff member involved … if that staff member then laid a complaint to police I’d be telling that MP you are now required to fully cooperate.”

NZ First leader Winston Peters said there had clearly been a cover-up.

“This is the most clean political scandal I’ve seen for a long, long time.”

Following the scandal, Peters expected NZ First’s candidate Mark Patterson to sway a large proportion of National voters.

Glenys Dickson reacted to news Barclay wouldn't seek reelection by saying she hoped the Clutha-Southland electorate - which had been a "big part" of her life and career - could recover.

"There are a great number of people who have been damaged by this situation, not only myself ... and now it is time to heal, regroup and support the legacy of Bill English in this electorate."

Former electorate chairman Stuart Davie, who resigned over allegations against Barclay, said it didn't "give him any pleasure", but the MP had done the honourable thing by stepping down.

“I think [the board needs] to learn from this. They need listen to what people on the ground are saying and take it seriously.”

The way things were handled stemmed from the fact the board didn’t want trouble in the Clutha-Southland seat, he said.

"It didn’t dawn on them that if they didn’t deal with it, it wouldn’t go away.”

Prime Minister Bill English’s judgment had been called into question after he yesterday admitted telling police Barclay had spoken to him about recording staff - just hours after he repeatedly said he could not recall.

The investigation uncovered new details about Barclay - including a text message from English in which he said Dickson had been recorded - and cast fresh doubt on the party’s support for him and a police decision to drop an investigation due to insufficient evidence.

Barclay was initially unequivocal in defending himself when confronted on his way to National’s weekly caucus meeting, telling media there was “nothing new” in the Newsroom investigation.

“I’ve seen the allegations that have been made by Mrs Dickson and the police have investigated quite thoroughly, obviously, I’ve gone through quite a robust local, transparent process too which was my re-selection which I won quite convincingly so my people and supporters down here clearly see it for what it is.”

He “totally refuted” allegations he had recorded Dickson, and also denied telling English that he had recorded her.

'I can't recall'

However, the Prime Minister appeared less certain, repeatedly saying he could not recall who had given him the information.

“It wasn’t like it was a court affidavit or anything - it was a number of conversations among people with whom I’d worked for a long time, knew well and so I can’t recall exactly what was said by whom, when.”

It was still unclear “just what might or might not have happened” in terms of any recording, English said - not ruling out that it had occurred.

Citing “deep-seated differences” in his former electorate, he said both sides had made mistakes but it was time to move on.

Yet only a matter of hours later, journalists prepared to grill him again on the issue were left momentarily stunned when he informed them he had a statement to make.

He had, in fact, told police that Barclay had informed him about a recording he had made.

English denied he should have done more given his knowledge, saying “the [police] investigation was completed and as far as I was concerned those issues have been dealt with”.

Asked whether Barclay’s denial of any recordings earlier in the day meant he was a liar, English responded: “Well that’s a matter for him to account for his statements.”

It was a sharp contrast to his earlier uncertainty. Following his afternoon statement, staff from his office handed out copies of his police statement, which he had earlier refused to release.

Question time

Then it was off to Question Time, with the opposition MPs keen to make the most of Barclay’s misfortune.

Labour leader Andrew Little pressed English on whether he had been honest about his role in the scandal and Barclay’s conduct.

“Does he agree with his statement that ‘It's not leadership to cover up and hope it all goes away?’; if so, why is he covering things up and hoping they will just go away?”

Barclay spent most of Question Time on Tuesday with his head down, while English and the rest of National’s caucus were more subdued than usual.

Little and NZ First leader Winston Peters also piled in outside of Parliament.

Little said it appeared the police investigation had been “stonewalled and obstructed” with English involved in what looked like a cover-up to protect Barclay.

"This is about accountability and integrity and about the highest possible standards of conduct we should expect from our public officials. And when you are facing allegations you don’t run away from them, you front up to them. That, I think, is what New Zealanders expect of their public officials."

Peters, as is his wont, was more blunt in his assessment.

The situation was a fiasco, with the fact Barclay had remained in his seat a “sad indictment” of the low level of behaviour the National Party condoned.

“Prime Minister Bill English’s brain fade of this fiasco and then his sudden surge of recall will be considered unacceptable by many New Zealanders.

“If the National Party set standards the public of New Zealand expects from MPs, Mr Barclay would have been shown the door and sacked and the Prime Minister would be held accountable over this appalling episode.”

A confession

The day was capped with Barclay admitting he had told English about recording staff.

Flanked by senior whip Jami-Lee Ross and fellow Southland MP Sarah Dowie, Barclay read from a prepared statement to “clarify and correct my comments to the media earlier today”.

“I’ve read Mr English's statement to the police and I accept it. The period in question was a very stressful one and as I was in the midst of a difficult employment dispute.”

Barclay said there was fault on both sides, “like any breakdown in a relationship”.

“Looking back, I could have handled the situation differently and I regret that.”

He said he “shouldn’t have been as specific in my comments to the media” on Tuesday, but would not comment further citing legal reasons.

“As I’ve said in the past this has been a steep learning curve for me and I still have a lot to learn.

“I’m sorry if any of the answers I gave this morning were misleading in any way.”

About 50 members of National’s Clutha-Southland branch have written to police, asking them to re-investigate Barclay, while the party’s internal rules committee is understood to be looking into alleged rule breaches when he was re-selected last December.

Comments

Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

FOUNDING PARTNERS