Nicola Willis conspicuously absent from Uffindell Report


Nicola Willis’s distance from the Sam Uffindell saga raises questions about whose political brand is more important to the National Party – hers or Christopher Luxon’s.

Only three people from National saw KC Maria Dew’s full report on the conduct of Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell – leader Christopher Luxon, party chair Sylvia Wood and Uffindell.

Notably absent from that list was Deputy Leader Nicola Willis, who was more vocal than most when Luxon launched an independent investigation into serious allegations made by a former roommate of Uffindell’s.

She told the media that she was feeling “pretty bad” after hearing new allegations of Uffindell’s flattering days at Otago University, including a prominent coat hook with women’s underwear as trophies.

It was an emotionally charged response unlike Luxon who described it as “not great”.

Willis also recoiled at the details of the King’s College incident in which Uffindell participated in physically beating a younger student with bed legs.

As a mother of four, she said she found the idea of ​​her own 12-year-old son being subjected to such bullying “very disturbing.”

One of the long-established roles of a deputy party leader was to take on the pastoral care of the rest of the caucus and allay any concerns from individual MPs.

When Uffindell was suspended from caucus while an investigation was being conducted, it was former leader and Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller who wrapped his support around Uffindell and personally drove him from Wellington back to Tauranga.

After being ousted from the caucus himself during Judith Collins’ leadership of the party, Muller certainly experienced the alienation Uffindell would feel.

Willis played no part in caring for Uffindell during that period – at his recovery to caucus on Monday he thanked Wood for her constant contact during the five weeks he was suspended.

Uffindell was suspended from the caucus, not suspended, meaning there was no real reason Willis wouldn’t be the one to do welfare checks.

But by then she had already made it clear that she was very uncomfortable about the charges against him.

Luxon pushed himself into a corner when he made such a premature call and made headlines over the course of a week because of that naivety.

The Uffindell investigation was the first real test of the National Party’s new leadership, which had had a fairly scandal-free run until two months ago.

Much has been said about the differences between Luxon and Willis – one is socially conservative with very little political experience, the other is a liberal feminist who learned English under Messrs. John Key and Bill.

The differences have held up as the ticket to a winning formula where they balance each other and offer different worldviews.

When Luxon came under pressure for his anti-abortion stance, he used Willis’s pro-choice stance as a defense against attacks on his leadership.

But when the Uffindell report got back to the party chairman, Luxon was the only other person it was shared with to form an opinion on how to handle the matter.

Willis, who has more political experience than most, was excluded from the talks and decisions about what conclusion would ultimately be presented to the caucus.

Wood had already confessed make a bad judgment when she decided Uffindell’s past wasn’t high enough to tell the leader about, yet she was the only sounding board the politically green Luxon had.

Willis’s political brand is high — in Friday’s Mood of the Boardroom, 73 percent of respondents agreed she was a credible future finance minister, while several chief executives designated her as a future opposition leader and prime minister.

Tarnishing that reputation with the Uffindell saga wouldn’t have pleased her, but it also leaves the impression that protecting her brand is more important than protecting Luxon.

Without a report, summary or even job description to gauge Uffindell’s behavior, the public has been asked to trust Luxon and Wood.

If Willis had been more involved in that process, it is also possible that Luxon would not have made the political mistake of preemptively stating that the terms of reference and report would not be released in any form at the end of the investigation.

Luxon pushed himself into a corner when he made such a premature call and made headlines over the course of a week because of that naivety.


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