Gordon Campbell on the fallout from the Barclay tape

Todd Barclay – soft exit or hard exit? Anyone feeling that the watchdog roles of the media and Parliament have seen justice done to the scoundrel behind the taping scandal… well, maybe they should think again. This is hardly a case of cleaning out your desk and being turfed out onto the pavement. As others have pointed out, the disgraced Clutha-Southland MP will remain on the public payroll for three months until the election, and for three months afterwards. Since the pay rate for backbench MPs is $160,000 a year plus allowances, that amounts to a circa $80,000 payout for what looks very much like criminal behaviour, and for consistently lying to his electorate and to the wider public. In the meantime, the National Party that covered up for Barclay will be happy to use his tainted vote in Parliament to help pass its legislative agenda into law.

Sure, Barclay has been exposed as being a bully and liar. Prime Minister Bill English has also done damage to his own image as Honest Bill, the no frills straight shooter. Somehow, that image had survived a previous brush with scandal back in 2009.

Given what has now transpired – and the wonderment this week that English could ever have been a party to such a cover-up – that prior incident needs revisiting, briefly. As Finance Minister, English was imposing a regime of belt tightening at the time on the country, and on public services. Yet it transpired that English had been claiming Dipton as his primary residence for years, thereby scoring a housing allowance for his $1.2 million residence in Wellington – even though English had been living for all those years in Wellington, the city where his wife operated her medical practice and where his children had gone to school. Eventually, English paid back $32,000 and vowed not to claim a housing allowance in future. Somehow, the image of Honest Bill survived, and has flourished.

This time around, English kept a public silence while Barclay ran roughshod over the former electorate staff who – in the case of the sacked and surreptitiously taped Glenys Dickson – had served English faithfully for 17 years, only to wind up as the target of Barclay’s potentially criminal behaviour. At this late point, English is still hardly covering himself in glory. His claims yesterday that he had made a statement to the Police (kept under wraps) and to the-then electorate chairman Stuart Davie (in a private email) still leaves some gaping holes : namely the people of Clutha-Southland, and a general public who were kept in the dark by English’s collusion in keeping this scandal under wraps. As Greens leader James Shaw has said, English owes us all an apology for what – to use the language of Catholic theology – amounts to a sin of omission. Its not what he did ; its what he failed to do.

En route, the Police have also tarnished their image. Using their discretion not to prosecute Barclay – and declining to pursue the matter when he refused to co-operate with them – looks remarkably deferential to the National Party. Especially when compared, as New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has done, to the zeal that the Police showed when acting upon then-PM John Key’s complaint against the Epsom Tea Party camera operator Bradley Ambrose. If there was a tape – and if Barclay wouldn’t co-operate – why didn’t the Police execute a search warrant and go looking for it? As Peters intimated, when their political masters urged them onwards in Epsom, the Police were willing to leap into action. Yet when political embarrassment to their funders in Parliament may ensue… nah, not so much. Where is Greg O’Connor when we need him?

One can hope – probably in vain – that the voters of Clutha-Southland will have learned a lesson. Clearly, it is folly to elect anyone just because they’ve got a blue National ribbon on their lapel. Back in 2014, the electorate had a choice between a doctor with decades of experience in community health and a young former lobbyist for the tobacco industry. They gave the former tobacco lobbyist a winning margin of 14,886 – which was only a 1,282 drop from the winning margin that English himself had racked up three years before. As the old saying from the Middle Ages goes…when you buy a pig in a poke, you may be surprised to find out later that you’ve actually bought a dog. In three months time, lets hope the people of Clutha Southland subject the true blue candidate to closer scrutiny.

And other scandals

The US remains the brand leader in political scandals, thanks to the efforts of the Trump family (and friends) oligarchy. US business scandals are similarly on the nose. Like say, the asthma drug manufacturer caught up previously in price-gouging allegations, that has been buying up coal plants as a tax write off.

Oh, and the drug company’s chief executive is the daughter of the senator from West Virginia, the second largest coal-producing state in the US. Trump is the ultimate example of unbridled political and economic power, but – interestingly – some of his staunchest defenders happen are on the left of the political spectrum, as well as those on Fox News. The surest way of attracting hate mail these days is to criticize either Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump – because to do so is clearly to be a lackey of the deep state, or of the military industrial complex and Wall St. No matter that on all the available evidence, Trump and Putin are birds of a feather. They’re corrupt oligarchs, and both seem willing to use the military force of the state whenever it suits their interests to do so. Both have happily joined forces with the most reactionary religious, racist, anti-women and anti-gay forces in the US and Russia, in order to resist social change. Strange indeed that people claiming to be progressives can continue to treat Putin/Trump as victims.

That doesn’t mean the existing power structures are exempt from analysis, or criticism. Over the past weeks, the relations between the US and Russia have entered a dangerous phase. For example:

On Wednesday, a plane carrying the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, was approached by a Nato F-16 fighter over the Baltic Sea, prompting a Russian fighter jet to insert itself between the two planes and tilting its wings to show it was armed. The mid-air incident came a day after another close encounter above the Baltic between US and Russian warplanes… Sweden also reported that a Russian plane had come close to one of its military aircraft over the Baltic on Monday.

Similarly, in Syria:

Moscow has announced it had suspended a hotline between the US and Russian militaries in Syria and that it would view as targets any coalition planes flying west of the Euphrates river. The Pentagon has played down the threat, saying it continued to operate west of the Euphrates… Maxim Suchkov, a political analyst and editor of al-Monitor’s Russian coverage, said Moscow’s decision to cancel the St Petersburg talks [on sanctions against Russia for its interventions in Ukraine] “is explained by that given the recent events in Syria and Ukraine, Russia wants to raise the stakes and attempts to take its own ‘position of strength’ vis-a-vis Washington.”

No doubt, the status quo of NATO deployment in Europe is seen as threatening by Russia, and Russia’s interventions in Georgia and the Ukraine are similarly seen in Brussels as being justification for NATO’s concerns about Russia’s intentions regarding the Baltic states. But personalities also matter. Given the natures of the current leaders occupying the White House and the Kremlin, the world needs to be doing all it can to try and keep them both in check.

In His World

Simple is hard. Lindsey Buckingham may have been showered with fabulous riches beyond measure, yet the critical response over the years has been pretty grudging, and mixed. Even within the ambit of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks has always been a bigger critical favourite. Well, here are two fine examples of his work; first, this excellent demo of his “Walk a Thin Line” track from the Tusk album, 30 years ago.

And then there’s this track released only a few weeks ago, off an album that he’s just recorded with Chjristine McVie, featuring the usual Mac rhythm section. So it’s essentially a Fleetwood Mac track – only Nicks is absent – and one of their better ones in recent years.