Patrick Gower: Bill English has damaged his political mana

OPINION: Bill English has faced his first political test - and failed.

He's looked shifty on the Todd Barclay issue and there is no question that his political mana has been damaged.

He can recover, and it may blow over - but there is a question mark about whether he will have lost trust with some voters.

Mr Barclay may be gone but so many questions remain about why Bill English did nothing until his involvement in the recording scandal became public.

The Prime Minister's credibility was under attack today, with Winston Peters saying the Prime Minister "is complicit in a cover up. Why doesn't he resign?"

Labour leader Andrew Little asked "Is it an acceptable standard for a minister to be aware that a public figure is lying and to cover that up for 18 months?"

Mr English responded that "allegations of a cover up are ridiculous."

Todd Barclay announced he will quit Parliament, staying on full pay until the election. Barclay said "I got into politics because I was inspired by the people I worked for", name checking Bill English.

"I don't want the issues that are important to Clutha-Southland and all of New Zealand to be distracted by an employment dispute," he said."This has been a hard decision to make, but it is in the best interests of our Government and the National Party".

Mr English says "it's a shame that it's ended up in this situation". But the reality is Barclay is political roadkill - forced out to try and protect the Prime Minister. He'd done nothing materially different than when he told English 16 months ago that he secretly recorded his staff member Glenys Dickson.

Except that English got caught - his role became public.

 What's known now, uncovered by Newsroom, is:

  •  In February 2016: Bill English sent a text showing he knew of the recording
  •  In April: He gave police a statement
  •  In December: Barclay was re-selected in the Clutha-Southland seat
  •  In March this year: English was asked to clarify his role, and didn't
  •  It is only now he admitted his knowledge and involvement.

The question is: if it is so bad that Mr Barclay has to go then why did the Prime Minister sit on it for so long?

Mr English says "I don't accept assertion nothing was done about it", and "I don't think of itself it's damaging. These sorts of issues arise commonly in politics."

The truth is he kept quiet on his exact role when asked directly earlier this year. He was asked to what extent he was involved when Barclay was being investigated.

He responded "I was the local MP, I knew the two people pretty well, but I'm not going to comment any further than that". And he had a total brain fade yesterday when confronted about it.

Today, the Prime Minister claimed to have few regrets. "My main regret here is that people that I know well fell out so badly". What about the taxpayer funded top-up payout for Glenys Dickson? That came from the special and secretive leader's fund. No regrets there either.

But this has been all about truth, and there is a hard reality for Bill English.

He's been damaged - and he should have plenty of regrets.

Patrick Gower is Newshub's political editor.

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