26 Jun 2017

Todd Barclay story shadows National Party conference

5:12 am on 26 June 2017

The Todd Barclay story is refusing to die, despite the best efforts of senior government ministers, as the National Party held its election year conference over the weekend.

Bill English (left) and Todd Barclay

Bill English has come under intense scrutiny for his role in what began as an employment dispute between Todd Barclay (right) and an electorate staff member. Photo: RNZ

The party would have been hoping to go into the weekend conference with the focus firmly on an election win in September.

But with a conference light on any new announcements, it was all about Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay and the actions of Bill English and the party board.

Allegations about Mr Barclay secretly recording Glenys Dickson in the Gore electorate office have cost him his political career.

Prime Minister Bill English has also come under intense scrutiny for his role in what began as an employment dispute in his former electorate.

In another twist, Mr English revealed his MP offered to play him the recording of an electorate staffer when they first spoke about it.

Mr English told police about the conversation last April, but did not say exactly when it took place.

He said he turned down the offer because he had no direct involvement in the dispute.

"In the context of an employment dispute, getting those things settled can be challenging ... and I had no intention of becoming entangled in the resolution of that dispute - I was a bystander."

Bill English said he turned down the offer to hear the tape recording because he had no direct involvement in the dispute.

Bill English said he turned down the offer to hear the tape recording because he had no direct involvement in the dispute. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

The police investigation into the secret recording hit a brick wall last year after Mr Barclay refused to be interviewed.

They will decide this week whether to reopen it.

Mr English said if that happened, Mr Barclay should co-operate.

At the conference, campaign manager Steven Joyce said the events of last week were a stark reminder there was still a tough campaign ahead, and no-one should take an election win for granted.

He was asked whether the controversy would have compromised the Prime Minister's reputation and credibility.

"I mean obviously we're going to be aware of the risk of that, but we can all differ on our views about how it all played out."

"From the public's perspective they will see that he's come through it and they will think he's come through it well," Mr Joyce said.

We asked party members if they thought the past week had damaged the party.

A member in Tukituki, Trevor Helson, said the Todd Barclay saga was not good for the party, and should not have happened.

"It just takes the focus away from what we should be talking about ... the economy, employment, housing, all those sorts of things."

Tony Hannifin from East Coast Bays said it had been pretty brutal, but it was nothing new.

"The issue that cropped up for us has been dealt with and is behind us.

"I haven't been involved in a campaign that hasn't been brutal. I know when you wake up the morning after an election and you've won or lost, the emotions are pretty raw."

Frances from Auckland said the Barclay situation was just a hiccup.

"It's nothing that we can't get over and move on from ... as long as the country let's us."

When National Party board members, including the president Peter Goodfellow, were approached at the conference they said nothing untoward had gone on in terms of their involvement in the controversy.

Andrew Little last week described the Todd Barclay affair as an absolute disgrace and shambles.

Andrew Little last week described the Todd Barclay affair as an absolute disgrace and shambles. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said things just weren't adding up.

"It looks like they are trying to conceal something ... it increasingly looks like it is something on those tapes.

"If those tapes are out there, we've got to know what's on those tapes."

Newsroom has revealed new allegations that several complaints were made by party members to the board about Todd Barclay breaking party rules, but he was re-selected anyway.

Mr English said he understood those matters had been "fully discussed in the context of his selection".

"And that was about the party rules, and that is all absolutely a matter for the party to deal with, the rules around selection."

He said the situation in the Clutha-Southland electorate "may have been mentioned" between himself and the President, Peter Goodfellow.

In his first conference address to party members as leader and Prime Minister, Mr English hinted at further tax cuts if National is elected for a fourth term.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs