Backbench National MP and Gore High School graduate Todd Barclay's statement announcing his decision not to stand for re-election was a classic of the genre.

Where we might have expected something apologetic ending with ".... but most of all I've let myself down," he took around 250 words to say, effectively, "I'm the shizz."

The decision itself was commendable, but it left many questions unanswered, such as: Will Bill English's reputation survive? If the police re-open their investigation will Barclay co-operate this time? And what the hell was a millennial doing with a Dictaphone?

But it did answer one question - whether the sorts of practices Nicky Hager called dirty politics and which its practitioners like to call by the self-romanticising name "the dark arts" are still part of political culture? You bet.


The least reprehensible of these practices is diversion - preventing people from looking at things you don't want them to see.

But there have been so many distraction-worthy things in the past week that it was hard to guess who would be trying to distract whom from what: Disability Minister Nicky Wagner and her insensitive tweet about not wanting to be at "Disability meetings" (although, at least now everyone knows we have a disability minister); perhaps someone was doing a favour to paternity suit pin-up John Banks by taking the spotlight off him; then there was Tim Groser and the GCSB, confirmed to have done his dirty work by spying on other candidates for a job he wanted; and the unedifying fight between District Health Boards and the Ministry of Health concerning overpayment - only in New Zealand could some District Health Boards getting too much money be a problem.

Those issues remain to be considered. Bill English probably won't be giving them a lot of thought as he attempts to hose the last of the muck off.

You know things are bad when the people at the centre of an investigation rely on such phrases as "that's a matter for him", "to the best of my knowledge" and "I don't recall", which belong on the list of great excuses of all time, up there with with "I was just following orders", "It must have gone into my spam folder", and "Google maps was down".

As for the other leaders, they played their parts and recited their lines without once breaking character. No one really managed to occupy the moral high ground, which seems odd, because you didn't have to go very far to get there.

ACT's David Seymour issued a "Chin up, Bill" tweet: "We will provide National with a buffer to pass laws even if National loses MPs." He didn't say how many disgraced and departed MPs all one of him could make up for when it comes to passing laws.

Labour's Andrew Little put young MPs on notice: 'Without being patronising, there are always questions of maturity when you're an MP at that sort of age". "Without being patronising" must be the new "I'm not a racist but ... " The Father of the House entered Parliament in 2011, three years before Barclay.

Over at NZ First, Winston Peters tried his best to fulminate but he didn't sound like his heart was in it. Probably too busy wondering whether, if NZ First gets the anti-smacking law repealed, he'll be able to bring back the ducking stool.


He did say MPs needed more life experience than a 27-year-old like Barclay. But then, Mr Peters, 72, would say that, wouldn't he?

If he had a little more stature to start with, Barclay's fall could be seen as a tragedy. As it is, he can't be blamed for having his own go at dirty politics, because, although for some people that book was the record of a scandal, for others it was a how-to guide.