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PM and Labour wounded after a brutal week

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 22/06/2017 Peter Wilson, Political Reporter

<span style="font-size:13px;">The Todd Barclay scandal has wounded the prime minister</span> © Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images The Todd Barclay scandal has wounded the prime minister The prime minister discredited and an MP forced out of parliament.

Foreign students recruited by Labour for election campaign work housed in a squalid, overcrowded marae.

Paula Bennett describes it as "a brutal week in politics" and she's right.

Of the two catastrophes, the Todd Barclay scandal was the worst.

The young Clutha-Southland MP was proved to have not told the truth about allegations he secretly recorded the conversations of staff members in his Gore electorate office.

Worse, he denied telling Prime Minister Bill English what he had done.

That's what brought him down.

English knew Barclay had told him, and he knew he had said so in a statement to the police.

He also knew it would be disastrous if his police statement came to light during the election campaign.

So he released it himself.

When that happened, Barclay was finished.

One of them wasn't telling the truth, and it wasn't going to be the prime minister going down the tubes.

So Barclay had to front up to media and read a bizarre statement saying he "accepted" the prime minister's statement to police, and he was sorry if his previous answers had been "misleading".

That was never going to get him off the hook, and the next day he announced he wouldn't stand for re-election in September.

That didn't get English off the hook either.

He's been savaged in parliament by Andrew Little and Winston Peters, there are breach of privilege complaints against him claiming he deliberately mislead the House - an offence which, if proved, would mean his resignation.

They aren't likely to be proved and those who laid them know that, but it's a great way to keep the scandal running.

English's reputation as a straight shooter has been damaged, perhaps permanently.

Before Newsroom broke the Barclay story open this week, English had denied knowing much about it.

Asked in March whether he knew the reasons behind staff resignations in Barclay's office he replied: "No. These are issues between them and their MP. I keep pretty clear of the electorate."

But the month before, it's now known, he had sent a text message to the then electorate chairman, Stuart Davie: "He (Barclay) left a dictaphone running that picked up all conversations in the office."

English still says he didn't know all the details behind the rift between Barclay and his staff, and he could be right.

But he clearly knew a lot more than he was telling the media.

The other issue that opens him to attack - and opposition MPs are making the most of it - is the fact that although he knew Barclay had made the recordings he said and did nothing when Barclay persistently denied doing so.

Labour was having a great time until Thursday.

It was another news website, Politik, reported the plight of the students recruited for Labour's election campaign.

The scheme promised lectures for participating students with party heavyweights including Andrew Little, Jacinda Ardern and former prime minister Helen Clark.

They didn't get any lectures - Ardern didn't even know about it - and lived under appalling conditions in an Auckland marae.

From the government's perspective, the delightful thing about this was that Labour has strong policies on workers' rights and accommodation standards.

It also has a policy to significantly restrict the number of foreign students coming into the country because, it says, they're taking Kiwi jobs.

The scheme was started by Little's former chief of staff and Auckland office director Matt McCarten.

He quit in May but continued to run the scheme, or not run it, because it ran out of control.

Little, to his credit, quickly took ownership of the problem, admitted it was embarrassing, and promised the party would fix it.

He knows it won't last as long as the Barclay scandal.

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