Bill English had answers, but four hours too late
OPINION: Prime Minister Bill English should have thrown his MP Todd Barclay under a bus with what he knew about secret recordings of his staff. Instead he nearly tripped under the bus wheels himself.
English was given ample opportunity during a 15 minute stand-up with journalists on Tuesday to confirm the Clutha Southland MP had personally admitted making the recordings - even though Barclay has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong.
But English's day stumbled from bad to worse when he fell back on the dodgy memory card instead, telling reporters he "could not recall" who told him what.
Newsroom.co.nz reported on Tuesday morning that Barclay's former electorate agent Glenys Dickson was paid hush money after learning of a dictaphone left running in the Gore office and then engaging an employment lawyer.
English's failure to recall their conversation seems scarcely believable after English later released the statement he made to police during their investigation into the allegations.
* Government gives secret payment to MP Todd Barclay's former employee over clandestine recording
* MP Todd Barclay maintains he 'did nothing wrong' amid claims of secretly recording former staffer
The police investigation was shelved after Barclay refused to co-operate and their investigation was inconclusive. It is illegal to record conversations you are not party to.
After the story broke, English initially rejected suggestions he waive his right to privacy and release details of what he told police.
But just hours later, the PM released the full statement, clearly aware his position would be untenable should copies find their way into the public arena.
That is because the statement clearly stated how English knew about the secret recordings and who told him - Barclay.
The statement records English telling police that he and Barclay had a face to face conversation about Dickson and Barclay "said to me he had recordings of her criticising him".
When he was asked if Barclay explained how the recordings were made English responded: "Yeah he said he had just left the dictaphone on."
Barclay has been aggressive in response to any questions about secret recordings. When put on the spot on Tuesday, he denied telling English about the recordings.
The prime minister's earlier dissembling about not being able to remember now looks like he was colluding in a cover up.
That's bad as it gets, especially when the country is on the edge of an election campaign.
English's belated decision to front up and release the police statement is a huge redeeming factor. But he should have done it immediately. Instead he waited four hours.
English will blame the time lapse between now and that statement being taken, just over a year ago, for his memory fail.
But the very obvious contradictions between what Barclay said publicly, and what English knew, should have seared the statement into his brain.
Barclay's refusal to co-operate with the police inquiry was another reason for alarm and a valid reason for English to hang him out to dry.
When Barclay called a late press conference it was assumed English had finally done so. But far from resign, as expected, Barclay's explanation seemed that he was guilty only of not being slippery enough in his answers.
If anyone has been hung out to dry, it's English.
Now there are questions about the selection process, causing huge distractions ahead of what was supposed to be a triumphant annual conference in Wellington this weekend.
It's inexplicable that English would blow so much political capital on his junior MP.