• The End of a Promising Career

    My twenty years in parliamentary politics taught me that, contrary to the opinions of many, most politicians pursue a political career for other than exclusively self-serving reasons.  Most genuinely want to serve their fellow citizens or believe that they can make a real contribution to improving the way our society works.

    I concede, though, that there are some politicians who could properly be called “careerists” – the term is not intended as a compliment.  These are people who see politics as a path to fame and fortune, and they tend to be found – without wishing to make a party political point – more on the right of the political spectrum than on the left.

    A careerist will often be ambitious for promotion and preferment and will feel that destiny calls.  That is not in itself a crime but it can all too easily become a conviction that destiny is not to be frustrated by the usual rules of good behaviour.  Someone who believes that he or she is on the threshold of great things may be impatient of those of apparently lesser ability, more cavalier about observing the requirements of law or morality, and more arrogant and driven by chutzpah in pursuing his own interests at the expense of others.

    At the extreme, someone of this personality type – and particularly  one who enjoys at least a modicum of success – can develop what might be called a “Messiah complex”.  Perhaps the leading example of this syndrome was Tony Blair; his conviction that he was destined to save the world led him into the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, and the world he thought he was saving has paid the price ever since.

    These thoughts were brought to mind as I contemplated the saga of Todd Barclay.  A young man of undoubted ability, he must have been excited at inheriting the safe parliamentary seat vacated by Bill English, then the Deputy Prime Minister.

    His youth and impatience led him, however, to a fractious relationship with the staff in his electorate office, and thence to a course of action which involved him in the criminal offence of recording another’s conversation without their knowledge or consent.  In what is a sadly familiar downward spiral, he then compounded the error by falsely denying that he had done any such thing.  As so often, it is the cover-up, rather than the original offence, that causes the real problems.

    His problems multiplied when his lack of honesty implicated the Prime Minister who appears to have knowingly supported him in his denial of a now admitted truth.  His resignation merely of course delayed the inevitable.  But that ignominious outcome is far from the end of the story, which now involves not only the career prospects of a single (and misguided) individual but important principles of public life.

    It is also significant that his departure has been arranged in such a way as to maintain his eligibility, as a retiring rather resigning MP, for all the advantages accruing to one who leaves the parliamentary scene with plaudits for a job well done, rather than in disgrace.

    If proper standards are to be maintained, we must now ensure that an elected representative cannot use his status to avoid being held accountable for his actions, and that others who have connived at the attempt to achieve precisely that are also held to account.

    That means that the Prime Minister must recant his earlier attempt to obscure the truth and protect his protégé.  It means that the police must – following the admission that what appears to have been a criminal offence had been committed – re-open their prematurely foreclosed investigation as to whether that was so; they were, after all, very keen to pursue Bradley Ambrose, the cameraman who inadvertently recorded John Key’s conversation with John Banks in the 2011 election campaign.

    Most of all, it requires that others should learn the lesson that Todd Barclay  overlooked – that public life in New Zealand demands that its practitioners should tell the truth.

    Bryan Gould

    21 June 2017




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