There's been talk lately of a "youth-quake", whether young people could change the course of the impending election in New Zealand, but no one suspected he would come from Gore.

Less than two weeks after his 27th birthday, Todd Barclay announced that he wouldn't, after all, be standing for re-election as member of parliament for Clutha-Southland.

By early Wednesday afternoon, a 30-hour political whirlwind that began with a humdinger of a story from Newsroom's Melanie Reid, which explored the National MP's secret recording of his electorate staff, the stalled police investigation, and remarks by the now prime minister Bill English to police and in text messages, the voices of persuasion in had Barclay's ear became irresistible, and the statement came: Hard decision to make, issues that are important, don't want to distract - you know the script.

The MP's age, of course, is scarcely relevant to the offence. Idiocy transcends such details. So does mendacity.


And Barclay has revealed a timeless tenacity over the last 18 months. The alleged illegal recording of staff in his Clutha office led to a police investigation, which he said he'd cooperate with, and then he didn't.

The "employment dispute" saw a settlement - "larger than normal because of the privacy breach", in Bill English's words - paid out of the publicly funded leader's budget, with all the elegance of a broom gliding under a carpet.

Barclay meanwhile did his best at verbal gymnastics, dodging, dissembling, reframing questions.

It crescendoed on Tuesday: as Barclay "totally refuted" the allegations, then he didn't any more, and apologised for being too "specific", it began to sound worryingly like he was auditioning for the vacancy left by Sean Spicer as White House spokesperson.

Sometimes, when you dance too long on the head of a pin you just end up with a pin in your foot. By Wednesday morning, it was clear the game was up.

"Is he a liar?" finance minister and party campaign manager Steven Joyce asked of himself on Newstalk ZB. "Well I must say his two statements yesterday didn't exactly match up, did they?"

Just eight days after the rosy 100-day-to-go election countdown began, here was a windfall for political cliché bingo: a week is a long time in politics, MP thrown under the bus, gone by (late) lunchtime.

But this is not substantially about Todd Barclay any longer: the central character is another son of Southland, Bill English.


His hope will be that Barclay's announced exit draws a line under the episode. But English's proximity to Barclay amounts to more than just geographical provenance.

He was his predecessor in this deepest blue of seats. He knows well all the players, the complainants included. As deputy prime minister, he told RNZ in March last year that he was unaware of any specific problem between Barclay and his staff, which stands in stark contrast to his remarks to police.

As prime minister, this week, within the space of a few hours he had gone from "I can't recall" who told him about the Barclay recordings to producing a transcript of his conversation - apparently a forgettable one - with police in which he said it was Todd who told him.

There are other reasons the story will not disappear.

Barclay is sticking around for the three months to the election; he may be something of a political ghost, but he'll be there casting his potentially crucial parliamentary vote. And taking in a pretty decent $80,000 in pay and perks, which is not at all shabby, especially for a ghost.

The electorate selection process will have need to be repeated, too, under a media spotlight. Last time, Barclay had a support team of seven National MPs in town cheering him on for selection night. Don't expect any such cavalcade this time.

The police have confirmed that they're looking at reopening the investigation, too.

The contradictions in Barclay's statements make that almost inevitable, but to that pressure can be added the widespread bemusement at the contrast in the police's apparently phlegmatic response to the Clutha-Southland recording and their all-warrants-blazing enthusiasm following the teapot tape recording at the Urban Cafe in 2011, when the politician was the one complaining, rather than the one being complained about.

And the police may have another reason to inquire. As Otago law professor Andrew Geddis has pointed out, the allegation made by former electorate agent Glenys Dickson that a National Party board member had urged her to drop her complaint may provide cause for an investigation into something altogether more serious than surreptitious recording, obstruction of justice.

On top of all of that, the episode, three months from election day, could yet mark a shift in momentum. For opposition parties staring at largely static opinion polls, it is manna from heaven.

Or at least it should be: the Labour Party's knack for offending the gods of politics continued yesterday, amid a fiasco around foreign volunteers being put up in squalid digs and enlisted under false pretences - all this from the party inveighing against foreign students travelling to New Zealand for puffed up educational opportunities and, more importantly, the party whose very raison d'etre is fighting the exploitation of workers.

Andrew Little admitted that it was wrong and embarrassing, but it's nevertheless a remarkable feat of reverse alchemy to have been spending yesterday on the back foot.

Not that Winston Peters will mind. Scandals of this sort are a kind of political aphrodisiac for the NZ First leader, and he has been in full effect over the last 48 hours, gleefully turning the amp up to 11.

The political gods of 2017 continue to smile on him.
For English, the gravest threat goes to character. He projects as an earthy, honest-to-god, BS-free sort of leader.

That doesn't go up in smoke with the Barclay debacle, but it unquestionably takes a knock, and it will come under constant scrutiny in the coming months. A week ago, the prime minister would have been justifiably confident that he would be shaping the agenda for the set-piece media interviews at this weekend's National Party conference. Not any more.