National leader Christopher Luxon says he is “fixated on getting to the bottom of these serious allegations” over underfire MP Sam Uffindell.
After previously saying he wasn’t told of Uffindell’s bullying at King’s College, Luxon revealed staff in his office were told – they just didn’t tell him. He said that was a “mistake”.
The only MP to confirm they did know about his attack on a 13-year-old while at King’s College was Todd McClay, who was the campaign chair for National’s Tauranga by-election. He knew because Uffindell was up front about his behaviour at high school, and flagged it during National’s candidate selection process.
Luxon said McClay “has done nothing wrong”.
“He did in fact inform my staff, but my staff did not pass it through to me. That is regrettable.”
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Despite the “mistake”, Luxon said he maintained trust in his staff.
”I think it was a genuine mistake. And I and I really trust my staff.”
He also stood by the party’s selection panel, including the party presidents who also didn’t tell him. Former party president Peter Goodfellow and current president Sylvia Wood both knew about Uffindell’s attack on a younger student, as they were involved in candidate selection.
“Sylvia has done an excellent job. She reacted immediately to the red flag of Sam’s application, and then she put in place reference checking,” he said.
Luxon is one of the few people in National willing to talk about Uffindell. The caucus closed ranks after Luxon issued a late night statement saying Uffindell had been “stood down” after another allegation of bullying emerged against the new MP.
On Wednesday, National MPs avoided discussing their beleaguered colleague who admitted to being a high school “thug” and now faces an accusation of bullying his varsity flatmate.
In a media scrum on Wednesday afternoon, Luxon repeated that the new allegations were “very serious”.
“As a father with a daughter flatting, I would want those allegations to be taken very seriously,” he said.
Nats close ranks on Uffindell issue
Few of his caucus colleagues had anything to say about Uffindell – at all – on Wednesday.
Those who did speak said they supported the leadership’s decisions, including launching an investigation into Uffindell’s conduct before arriving at Parliament.
“The party and the leadership’s doing all the right steps at the moment,” Tāmaki MP Simon O’Connor said.
Another MP, who spoke anonymously to Stuff, also voiced support for Luxon’s handling of the Uffindell complaints.
“The leader has absolutely had the right response. He’s front-footing it,” they said.
“He’s initiated an investigation which is really important, in terms of the fresh allegation that has come forward. It will allow him to make informed decisions and know what action to take at the end of it, which is basically two weeks away.”
A few other National MPs, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were concerns about the selection process.
National MP Sam Uffindell says he is not proud of the person he was at school, admitting he was a “bully” but says he is a changed man.
This isn’t the first time National has selected candidates with, as Luxon described it on Tuesday, some “red flags”.
Uffindell is the party’s newest MP.
Luxon said they didn’t find out about accusations he bullied his flatmate while studying in Dunedin, until Tuesday evening.
Uffindell denied the allegation from his former flatmate.
“In second year a number of flatmates fell out – and two of the flatmates left midway through the year,” he said.
“I reject any accusation that I engaged in behaviour that was intimidatory or bullying. This simply did not happen.”
Party power brokers in the know?
Peter Goodfellow, the party’s former president also knew, as did the whole selection panel, Uffindell said.
That the party’s backstage power brokers knew about the high school attack, but didn’t warn Luxon or deputy Nicola Willis, has some MPs flabbergasted.
One MP said it was clear that the party’s delegates and leaders should have been told about the King’s College attack. Luxon, on Tuesday, said he only found out about it on Monday but thought he should have known earlier. He also said the public had a right to know.
Uffindell entered Parliament after winning the Tauranga by-election in June and gave his maiden speech just a week ago.
Luxon and party president Sylvia Wood said Maria Dew QC would investigate allegations against Uffindell. The investigation was expected to take two weeks, during which time Uffindell would be suspended from caucus.
Most National Party MPs declined to comment or did not respond to Stuff when asked about Uffindell’s selection as the party’s Tauranga candidate, or how the fallout has been handled.
MPs such as O’Connor, Stuart Smith and Melissa Lee responded to questions only to say that they trusted the party’s leadership was handling it, and they had confidence in the leaders.
Lee and Smith, the party’s Kaikōura MP, had little to add other than to say the party’s leaders were handling the situation. Lee said she would await the report from Dew.