Parliament’s youngest MP could find his Parliamentary career suddenly cut short if he does not survive a challenge to his nomination as a National candidate.
Party members in the Clutha-Southland electorate were told last night that Singapore-based investment banker, Simon Flood, plans to challenge the National MP, Todd Barclay for the nomination.
Flood made it to the short list for the 2014 selection but pulled out at the last minute for personal reasons.
Instead Barclay, then 24, and a former Beehive advisor and tobacco company lobbyist won the selection to become Parliament’s youngest MP.
Previously the seat had been held since 1990 by Finance Minister Bill English.
With a majority of over 16,000, it is one of National safest seats though it is a somewhat incongruous blend of heartland rural Otago and fast-moving cosmopolitan Queenstown.
Barclay’s selection was controversial within the party and led to the resignation of two staff members and an electorate chairman.
A number of party members have also resigned, and some have joined up with NZ First.
But speaking yesterday to POLITIK, Barclay said he welcomed the challenge.
“The party has got a democratic process, and that’s one of the strengths of the party; anybody can put themselves up to stand in any electorate at any time,” he said.
“I think my team and I have done a great job over the past three years of working really hard to try and build up the seat to where it is now.”
Barclay implies that the electorate was slightly rundown when he took it over from English.
“Having a senior MP as the local MP for a long period of time has meant that he has obviously had other responsibilities whereas now I live here, I’m based here, and I’m doing a lot of hard work to try and build up what we’ve got in terms of the party infrastructure.”
But that is only one side of the story.
There has also been some dissessnion within the electorate.
In January Barbara Swan, Barclay’s electorate agent in Queenstown resigned followed by Glenys Dickson, a 16-year veteran employee of Bill English resigned as Gore agent. Those resignations were followed by that of the electorate chair, Stuart Davie.
Barclay believes that the challenge stems from those resignations.
“I’m not getting any sense of a mood for change from within the branch structure of the electorate but what I am getting a sense of is what you will have seen play out earlier in the year and that’s some former staff members who are disaffected and have been running a campaign against me ever since.
“They can do what they want to do. It is what it is from my perspective I am just wanting to focus on the positive stuff that we have achieved over the past three years.”
But at its top levels, the party knows that a serious challenge of a sitting MP in such a safe seat is an embarrassment.
That’s presumably why they have been trying to spin it as an example of National Party democracy in action.
In a statement issued to POLITIK, Party President, Peter Goodfellow said National was proud of its local, democratic selection process.
“Selections are an internal matter for each electorate that every MP or aspiring MP must go through before every election, no matter their seniority or length of service
“There’s a well-established selection process to be run in Clutha-Southland, and this will be completed over the next month, along with a number of other electorates.”
The challenger, Simon Flood is a Canterbury University educated investment banker who has lived in Hong Kong and Singapore since 1990.
Like the Prime Minister he was a senior executive at Merrill Lynch but returned to New Zealand in 2015 after heading up the Asia Pacific investment arm of AXA IM.
The Clutha – Southland electorate is the largest general electorate in the country straddling the bottom of the South Island from Milford Sound in the west to Milton in the east. It embraces Queenstown and Arrowtown, and its northern border runs down through Central Otago.
It is 89% European and is the country’s most Presbyterian electorate with 21% of its population, adherents. It is also one of the most affluent; 48% earn over $70,000 a year.
It is overwhelmingly a farming electorate, but Queenstown adds a cosmopolitan flavour.
One prominent Queenstown businessman told POLITIK that Barclay was popular there and had been working hard and doing a good job.
On the other hand, a Central Otago farmer said there were issues with the Southern DHB and infrastructure issues in Queenstown as well as “general grumpiness with returns for pastoral farming.”
He noted the irony in one of the most rural electorates in the country being presented with a choice between a tobacco company lobbyist (Barclay) and an international merchant banker.
What is unclear is what would happen to Barclay if Flood defeats him for the selection.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that it was National Policy to place the Cabinet at the top of the party’s list in order of precedence however he was unclear about how the caucus and non-caucus members would be ranked beyond that.
But with the party keen to increase its ethnic representation in Parliament and with the high flyer former Key aide, Nicola Willis, likely to be seeking a top list position, Barclay could find himself squeezed off the winnable positions on the list if he loses the selection.
This is likely to be a high profile selection with so much at stake.