The crisis that has afflicted National over the past week is not remotely comparable to the headache facing Labour over its foreign campaigning interns.

Yes, the poorly-run intern programme has weakened Andrew Little's ability to talk convincingly about Labour's immigration policy.

But he admitted its failure quickly, acknowledged it was an embarrassment, and the party is trying to make good on the experience that the young travellers were hoping for.

In Matt McCarten, Little's former chief of staff, Labour has someone it can credibly blame.


In his exuberance to change the Government, he overreached and may have cut corners.

By contrast, the National Party crisis has undermined its leader internally and externally when leadership and judgment will be a huge factor in the election.

The resignation of Todd Barclay was the bare minimum needed after evidence emerged that Barclay had recorded his electorate agent's phone calls criticising him, and that English knew about it.

Little's response this week has been measured. There was no need for him to over-egg the position in which English found himself because it simply spoke for itself.

It was not just English's worst day as Prime Minister, Tuesday was National's worst day in nearly nine years of Government.

Barclay's resignation was essential but it was not the circuit-breaker that gets English off the hook. That is the trouble for English.

Because the events are historic, they can't be undone and the options for mitigation are limited.

Things have the potential to get worse, not better, especially if the police reopen their inquiry, as they should.

This weekend, at the National Party conference, English's priority is not necessarily trying to restore his credibility with the public.

His immediate challenge is to address the damage within his party and convince them he has the judgment worthy of their commitment to election day.

Among members, the scapegoats are the ex-Clutha-Southland National Party members who fell out with Barclay and whose whistle-blowing has had maximum effect.

They stand accused of deliberate sabotage of National - as though the judgment of Barclay and English was irrelevant.

But English's fall from grace is much higher because over many years he has earned himself a reputation as the conscience of the party.

It was mainly through his devotion to the social policy issues but the flow-on effect has been that he has been regarded as a man of substance and principle. Voters have been weighing up whether to give the once-failed leader a second chance.

English's most obvious course of mitigation, an acknowledgement of the severity of his own failures, is one he has avoided.

The closest English came to it was on Thursday at a media stand-up in Auckland when he finally acknowledged that what Barclay had done was "not good behaviour" and that he had told him so at the time.

English also gave some insight into how events unfolded when he said no one had realised at the time that taping someone might be a crime - and that clearly included himself.

That would account for how he came to blithely text a message to Barclay's electorate chairman relaying what Barclay had told him, that he had left a tape running which would pick up the electorate agent's conversations.

Barclay blithely relayed information to Parliamentary Service about what was on the tape, showing why he had lost confidence in Glenys Dickson.

It was the agent's lawyer in discussion with Parliamentary Service who picked up the possible crime.

By the time the police had asked to talk to English about his text message, English and Barclay had obviously both realised it was a possible crime. And from there, the bigger problems began.

Barclay changed his mind and refused to speak to the police during their investigation of his behaviour.

English was extremely careful in the language he used to the police. At no point did he suggest the taping had been done intentionally to get proof against the agent.

The English statement left Barclay open to use a defence of "accidental taping" if the police had actually charged him.

A National insider said to me this week without any hint of irony: "But Todd would had to have resigned as an MP if he had been convicted."

Perhaps the only upside for National this week is that the sordid saga has provided some cover for other areas of Government that are unravelling, namely in health, and that it may be starving other parties of political oxygen.

Winston Peters' bid for the farmers and regional voters this week would undoubtedly have received more cut-through had it not been for the taping scandal.

Peters' call on Thursday for English's resignation was unusual but not without risk of sending mixed messages.

He will be hoping to peel off some loose National supporters but it may also send a signal that he is more likely to deal with Labour after the election.

The police are reassessing the information that has come out this week against their previous decision to close the investigation.

English's statements about no one realising it was a crime to tape someone warrants at least another interview with him, and maybe Barclay himself might co-operate in an investigation now that he has nothing more to lose.

In the interests of their own reputation, the police should reopen the case.

Their decision in March to withhold English's name, text and his entire police interview from an OIA release to the New Zealand Herald had huge political consequences.

For a whole three months, it protected English and Barclay from the furore going on right now - furore caused by Newsroom's publishing an un-redacted version of the incriminating text it was given.

Protecting politicians may not have been the motive of police in its decision to withhold information which was clearly in the public interest but it was the result.

The police could demonstrate some good faith with the public interest by commissioning an independent and thorough review of its original investigation if not reopening it altogether.