Despite National’s probe, we may never know who leaked the party leader’s expenses.
Actually, because the details of those expenses were about to be made public, it is not so much a leak as an embargo breach, to use a journalistic phrase. What’s more, the figures quoted were inaccurate – but let’s not get bogged down in facts. In this story, speculation is everything.
At the beginning of this parliamentary thriller, we were told the leaker leaked because he or she considered Bridges arrogant and wasteful with public money. Actually, the expense of running the limos is a sunk cost; the cars and their drivers would be a drain on the public purse even if they stood idle, and the only real money we are talking about here is how much Bridges may have cost the country to fill the tank. Sorry, here I go again being distracted by pesky facts.
Bridges claims he may be a victim of a Government dirty-tricks campaign. But the Government says, no, it does not get a copy of his car expenses and the leak must have come from the National Party caucus. It could have come from the Parliamentary Service or a staffer in an MP’s office, retorts the slightly obsessive Bridges, and the number of suspects narrows to several hundred.
Up pops Speaker Trevor Mallard, although at some distance, because he seems to be on a cycling tour somewhere in Britain, who announces a formal inquiry.
No sooner does that news break than he and Bridges get an anonymous text from the leaker claiming that he or she has mental-health problems and therefore their identity should not be made public.
Like every good crime story, the police are called (to check on the leaker’s health). They quickly establish the identity of the person and conclude that his or her mental health is under control and nothing nasty will happen to them. I am not sure I would entirely trust a police officer’s mental-health assessment, but I guess they deal with more crazies than I do.
Here the plot takes a twist. The police tell Bridges that, for privacy reasons, they will not disclose the leaker’s identity. Bridges goes ballistic – he seems to feel his own privacy has been breached by the man or woman hiding behind a smokescreen of alleged psychological instability and their own privacy.
The leaker, by the way, tries to convince Bridges that he or she is a National MP by dropping caucus gossip into the text. To be honest, in my experience of reporting from Parliament, anyone who drinks in Bellamys or eats in the Beehive’s cafe would probably also be privy to such information, so its inclusion in the text doesn’t prove it came from a caucus member.
Mallard, meanwhile, having set the wheels in motion for an inquiry, axes the idea. National says it will conduct its own investigation, even though that would lack the legal power to compel evidence. Even if it does discover the leaker’s identity, there is no guarantee the name will ever be made public because it is a private inquiry by the party.
So, folks, we may never find out who told on Bridges for guzzling petrol money. Agatha Christie this is not.
This article was first published in the September 8, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.