Like many, I have been puzzled about what has been going on in Clutha-southland over the last couple of years. So over time I've chatted to quite a few locals down there to try and piece together what has happened. As it has flared up again, I thought it would be useful to share how I see things.
Note I have had no conversations at all with any of the participants in this, such as the current or former MP, or their staff. I do know them all of course.
Here's my take:
- Todd ruffled more feathers than was necessary when he became the candidate and new MP. Some of the criticism was unfair (some were unhappy that he chose to live in Queenstown instead of Gore, that he has a social life) and some was justified. His relationship skills were not at the level they needed to be, and he needed to learn to take people with him. The feedback I have had is that he has taken this on board and most of the criticism is historical.
- For reasons unknown he and his senior electorate staffer fell out quite badly. In hindsight he probably should have brought in new staff who were personally loyal to him but it made sense at the time to keep on people with such experience in the electorate. A fallout between an MP and a staffer is not uncommon, and in fact all parliamentary contracts have clauses that say you agree to resign if your MP loses confidence in you. I don't know who is most to blame for the fallout – probably some blame on both sides.
- The staffer started publicly and privately criticising Todd (as mentioned in this Newsroom article), and as I understand it actively working against him. This is simply unacceptable. If you think an MP is no good, then you resign and campaign against him but you don't bad mouth your employer when you are a parliamentary staffer. Doing so is basically grounds for termination for misconduct.
- Todd presumably heard that one of his own staff was using his own office resources and time to bad mouth him, and/or spread rumours about him. It seems (I have no first hand knowledge) he may have left a dictaphone running in the office to gather proof of this. It goes without saying he should not have done this and doing so (if he did) was a serious error of judgement.
- Since then a small group within the local party have been campaigning against Todd. They tried to get elected to the electorate committee and challenge him for the nomination. They failed massively, with Todd receiving the overwhelming support of the members.
- The reason the members are supporting Todd isn't because they approve of everything he has done. They do not, and many members will freely give advice as to how he could do better in certain areas. But they are supporting Todd because they are disgusted with the behaviour of those trying to bring him down, regardless of the damage it does to the party.
- Basically if you want to roll an MP in National, you don't do it through a public campaign of media vilification, You just quietly arrange a good challenger, do the numbers and challenge. Trying to force an MP out as a piece of personal utu does not make you a lot of friends. Most members down there are furious at the former staffer and electorate chair for how they are behaving.
So absolutely Todd has made some mistakes, including allegedly deciding to record a staffer bad mouthing him so he could dismiss her. But he was in an intolerable position of having a subversive campaign against him being run from his own office.
Almost every member down there knows exactly what has gone on. It is not as if his critics haven't told every person they can. Yet they failed to beat him in democratic elections and selection, so instead they are continuing their campaign through the media. It is rather sad.