Rookie MP Todd Barclay has achieved the near-impossible - creating controversy in the Clutha-Southland safe seat and becoming the focus of a media scrum pestering Prime Minister Bill English.

It's not a good look.

Barclay was elected to the rock-solid National seat in 2014 aged 24. He had by then already worked in former prime minister John Key's office, English's office and for ministers Gerry Brownlee and Hekia Parata. He also squeezed in a stint at PR firm SweeneyVesty and as corporate affairs manager for tobacco company Philip Morris.

That was his political apprenticeship.


Quite why the good people of the Clutha-Southland National Party thought it wise to select a 24-year-old is a mystery.

The prospect was for Barclay to be MP for 60 years. A glittering career lay ahead of him.

All he needed do was keep his head down and learn the ropes. Time was on his side.

Alas, it was not to be. There was a falling out with electorate staff who had worked for years with previous local MP English. There was upheaval in the electorate committee with the chairman declaring his position untenable.

There were allegations of Barclay "unlawfully intercepting a private communication". There was a police investigation. There was an unsuccessful challenge from within to depose him.

The only requirement of backbench MPs is to be tidy. Barclay failed in that one crucial task.

But that's not all. A year ago Barclay promised his full co-operation with police: "If they do contact me on any matter, then I will co-operate fully," he said.

Later in the year he explained: "I have not spoken to the police about any alleged complaint."


It sounded like he was more than happy to talk to the police but they closed the file without the need even to talk to him. That wasn't so. It emerged this week police were eager to interview Barclay but he refused. He didn't even front up to refuse - he had his lawyer do it for him.

It's quite okay for private citizens to refuse a police interview. In my opinion it's not okay for MPs. And it's especially not so when the MP is telling voters he is more than happy to be interviewed.

The suspicion that cannot be avoided in my mind is that his answering questions would be bad for him.

Barclay can't claim inexperience. He has worked as a PR professional and in the most powerful political offices in the land. His youthful inexperience doesn't remove him from the hook. He doesn't have the defence that he misspoke.

Such is the nature of politics that in a few short years his colleagues will have forgotten the staff controversy and English on the spot. Political accidents happen.
But they won't forget his refusal to front for questions and his seemingly misleading statements. They will dog him his entire career.

They are a matter of character.