The Uffindell affair has now descended into confusion with claims last night that Labour had known about the bullying allegations since early June.
A tweet from June 9 from a known Labour supporter who had Labour’s by-election candidate, Jan Tinetti and Labour MP Marja Lubeck tagged in said, “someone needs to ask Sam about his King’s college days and why he was asked to leave.”
POLITIK sought comment from Tinetti last night. Her office seemed unfamiliar with the Tweet but by late last night she had not replied with any comment.
Meanwhile, National Leader Christopher Luxon was saying his office had also been alerted before the allegations were made public on Monday after he said he hadn’t been told of Uffindell’s school bullying.
Within the party itself there were questions about the process that led to Uffindell’s selection and reminders of how after a number of selections it failed under previous President Peter Goodfellow there were promises to reform it.
Last night Party President Sylvia Wood appeared to acknowledge those concerns when she emailed members saying the Party had been working hard to strengthen and improve its selection processes.
“I am confident the Tauranga selection was run according to National Party rules, which do require confidentiality,” her email said.
“However, you have my undertaking that we will continue to improve these processes.”
That is unlikely to be enough for many members.
In an angry Facebook post, one party member, Sarah Manley, said she knew of “so many talented, diverse and capable people” who did not make it through the Party’s selection process.
“There is an entitlement culture, and this attraction to nice-looking men in suits is not serving us well,” she said.
“The more I observe the political scene in NZ, the more I see a country driven by ideology but not good ideas – we deserve so much better.”
Her post was drawing likes from a number of National Party women.
But the post also points to the challenge the Party now faces; that the Uffindell selection may be the straw that breaks the Party’s back in its tolerance of the party board.
The board itself is a product of Stephen Joyce’s reform of the party structure in 2003.
Joyce wanted to professionalise the Party and move it from being almost a federation of regionally based parties to one with a strong national board.
But the old structure had its point.
The leadership of the regional divisions were in direct touch with their local electorates. They knew the people and the local issues.
The new board members do not have direct regional accountabilities.
Currently, for example, there is no one on the board from the Central North Island region, which is centred on Hamilton and runs from south of Auckland to Gisborne across to New Plymouth and includes Tauranga.
Five of the nine members of the board at present come from Auckland. But at the last election, only 32 per cent of the Party’s vote came from the city.
A second problem is that the board is thought by many to be self-protective.
That much was evident when Sir David Carter last year attempted to challenge Peter Goodfellow for the presidency. He found no support around the board table despite the fact that Carter had widespread backing among the members.
Yet, at last weekend’s conference, a current MP told POLITIK that Goodfellow had little idea of just how unpopular he was among the ordinary members.
The election of Sylvia Wood as President appears to have been endorsed by Goodfellow, who will remain on the board anyway.
The former MP, Maurice Williamson, condemned Goodfellow’s decision to stay and said publicly that the board has become an “old boys’ network”.
POLITIK has spoken to other former MPs who thoroughly endorse his views.
The recruitment process would seem to depend on who you know.
Sir Graeme Harrison, who was appointed by the board itself to replace Carter, was shoulder tapped by Sir John Key, who asked him to take on the role.
The board also has a disproportionate influence over the all-important pre-selection panels.
Though the board appoints only two of the nine members of the panels they inevitably must be the loudest voices in the room.
The other members are five from the local electorate and two appointed by the regional chair.
They must sign a non-disclosure agreement about the names of the people seeking pre-selection and the proceedings of the panel.
Thus no one can comment on what Uffindell was asked or his answers.
That rule gave Rotorua MP Todd McClay cover when Luxon said he had not been briefed by McCaly about the allegations about Uffindell.
To the surprise of some senior party members, McClay had been on the pre-selection panel. It is not usual for MPs to be on the panels, and he was a board nominee. Earlier reports that the other board nominee was Sylvia Wood, have been denied by Leader Christopher Luxon.
McClay said on Tuesday that the information about Uffindell being asked to leave King’s because of bullying was provided to the panel by the board.
“We took it very seriously and saw it as an incident that needed to be questioned further,” he said.
However, the board eventually concluded that it happened 22 years ago, and Uffindell had worked hard to be a better person since.
McClay was not asked why he had not told Luxon; he was asked why he hadn’t talked about the information.
“It’s not my role as a campaign chair to talk directly to a leader about things that have happened in that selection process,” he said.
In fact, strictly speaking, he was prohibited from doing so.
Instead, he said, it was the Party’s responsibility.
The rules allow the pre-selection chair to report to the electorate committee, but beyond that, there is no provision to allow a report to the Party Leader or President.
Luxon confirmed on Tuesday that no one told him anything.
“I would have liked to have known about it,” he said.
But yesterday, Luxon said McClay had told his staff about the allegations about Luxon.
“He did, in fact, inform my staff, but my staff did not pass that through to me,” Luxon said.
“And that is regrettable.
“And I get that’s difficult, but I can tell you, Todd didn’t do anything wrong.”
McClay confirmed Luxon’s account to POLITIK.
“I informed his (Luxon’s) office, and it wasn’t passed on,” he said.
But the situation became more difficult with the allegations that Uffindell had also been involved in bullying behaviour at Otago University. he adamantly denies the allegations, and they are now being investigated by a QC, Maria Drew.
However, the politics of the situation have now gone beyond the rights and wrongs of what Uffindell did or didn’t do.
A former political advisor to McClay, Hamish Price, who has mopped up a few National Party messes, tweeted yesterday: “I don’t know the veracity of the most recent allegations against Sam Uffindell. But he is now in a hurricane. Every past mistake and indiscretion, and instance of bad behaviour, will come out. Nobody can survive that onslaught.”
ACT’s by-election candidate Cameron Luxton already sounds like he is expecting Uffindell to resign and that there could be another by-election.
He said Luxton should apologise to the voters of Tauranga but questioned whether they could ever trust him again.
Luxton may have been ahead of any decision that Uffindell will resign but MPs from both main parties spoken to by POLITIK believe a resignation and therefore another by-election are both inevitable.