Last night thousands of political junkies across NZ lay back in their seats, closed their eyes and let the waves of bliss wash across their bodies as they got their first hit of the pure stuff in a long, long while.
And they have Todd “won’t talk to the Police” Barclay to thank for it.
Because Barclay, in creating this scandal, has delivered a midget submarine’s worth of pure uncut dirty politics onto the streets and ended the drought of political news which had been the norm for the last few months.
And the political junkies rejoiced!
No longer will said junkies have to desperately scan the newspaper or blogs for fragments of the good stuff; no more will they have glazed eyes and dulled brains as they stumble along, day after day, in a wretched existence, getting by on watered down political news cut with everything from sports to entertainment just so they could get out of bed in the morning and face another dull day.
Because, today, right there on the front page of my paper and all over the blogs was nothing but Todd Barclay and Bill English, pure, uncut and ready to be injected.
And let’s be clear here, this is big news (no matter how much Kiwiblog tries to play it down) and in an election campaign where no big issue has yet to raise its head and set the tone of the debate this has all the potential of becoming that “big issue”.
Last election we had Kim Dotcom and the Internet party to fixate the voting populace and other elections have seen similar things (The Teapot tapes, Dirty Politics etc).
Thus far, 2017 has had absolutely nothing which has really caught the public eye and got people talking about the election but with nothing else to talk about, Todd Barclay, Bill English and National have become that topic by the default.
Just the rush of articles which appeared yesterday on both Stuff and The NZ Herald was amazing and shows just how starved the media was for some real political news.
Nothing else so far this year has seen such direct attention or laser like focus and unlike issues such as immigration or the environment which can have people on both sides of the line there is nothing about the behavior of Barclay or English which is good.
Let’s list those behaviors shall we:
· Barclay taped a staff member without them knowing (ILLEGAL)
· Barclay refused to speak to the Police on the matter (DODGY)
· National paid hush money to the staff member (SUSPECT)
· Barclay appears to have rigged the deck in his favor at his selection to be the local candidate for Clutha/Southland with family members and friends (SUSPECT AND POSSIBLY AGAINST PARTY RULES)
· Barclay appears to have provided false and misleading information on his candidate form by not declaring the above issues (IMMORAL AND SUSPECT)
· Barclay may have mislead Bill English (SKEEZY)
· Bill English appears to have mislead the public (STUPID AND SKEEZY)
· National appears to have had an internal investigation into the matter but with no outcome (WHATS NEW IN TOY TOWN?)
And that is just what we know; we still don’t know what actual issues led to the taping or what else lurks awaiting discovery.
Also, none of the above are vague or ambiguous in their character, all of them look wrong, all of them smell bad and all of them are just the kind of thing people associate with National.
How many times have National party MPs been caught out in a scandal?
So many times in fact that the words “National Party” and “Scandal” go together very easily.
There has been the Nick Smith Scandal, The Maurice Williamson Scandal, the Judith Collins Scandal, the Mike Sabine Scandal, The Pansy Wong scandal, Immigration scandals, the MPI scandal, the million dollar citizenship scandal, the SERCO/Fight-club scandal, the Alfred Ngaro scandal and so on and so forth.
That also ignores more serious scandals like the John Key’s lawyer shilling for foreign money scandal, The Tim Grosser/GCSB scandal, The Ministry of Health Scandal, The Hit and Run scandal, The Housing hernia, water, mental health and any situation where a National party MP or Prime minister has been caught doing or saying something they should not have (which are legion).
So with an election not far away and nothing else of note to focus on Todd Barclay has brought all his (and his party’s) dirty laundry front and center to create a grotesque and torrid display, in full public view with nothing or no-one (again excepting Kiwiblog’s attempts to spin this down) to distract from the grubby spectacle unfolding.
And that could be more than enough to set the tone of the election cycle to an examination of the current government (and their foul behaviors) as the default setting for discussion right up to polling day with nary any other event to distract them.
Bill English knows this as well but so far has been unable to behave as his old lord and master would have by simply moving to fix the issue (read: have Todd fall (or be thrown) on his sword) or simply move on to another issue as a means of distraction (of which there are none at this point).
There is no Rugby World Cup to steer people away, no crazed opposition party to galvanize National voters in defense of the blue flag, no clear and present danger to the nation which can un-focus public attention on Todd Barclay and his behaviors.
English stalled, like a deer in the headlights, of yesterday’s press conference before figuring out four hours later that he was compromised if caught in his own lie and suddenly started remembering matters.
Unfortunately (for Bill) it was too late and I can’t imagine a story starved media letting this go just yet as there is far too much meat left on the bone.
For me, the look on Bills face yesterday was a man whose mind was going back to the election of 2002, where he lead National to a hideous beating in the polls, and was desperately trying to suppress those thoughts when faced with a media scrum of suddenly energized political junkies looking to score.
And it would not be too difficult to imagine Bill (or his spin doctors) pacing back and forwards in his office, rapidly wearing out the carpet, while desperately muttering “What would John do?” as they try to figure out an escape.
But even if English posted a video on social media showing him making a gluten free, vegan, pizza while discussing raising the minimum wage with a Syrian refugee, it would not be enough to distract from this scandal.
This could be Bill English’s Theresa May/Brexit moment as he and the party find the narrative of the election slipping away from them and with them as they become “the issue” which the nation uses to help decide which way to vote. Andrew Little, if you still have a spin-doctor, call them immediately!
If English sacrifices Barclay that would be the quickest and safest option but even then that still has its perils and again with nothing else to focus on that might not be enough to throw the media off the scent of a story.
So, if like me, you are a political junkie then you will probably have a spring in your step today as the drought has ended and we are now most certainly in the last phase of this election because the antics of Barclay and English have kicked off the final third act whether they know it or not.