Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Personal integrity in politics

Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Personal integrity in politics

Yesterday the news broke that newly elected National MP Sam Uffindell was asked to leave private Auckland school King’s College at the end of his fifth form year after being part of a group that viciously beat a younger student one night.

There are many elements to this latest political scandal. There’s the National Party’s selection process which undoubtedly deserves further scrutiny particularly as Uffindell is just the latest in a series of missteps in choosing candidates including Jami-Lee Ross who is the media again now in relation to the High Court case around political donations. The party’s role in not publicly disclosing this incident also deserves further investigation.

But really at the heart of this is personal integrity. Someone who stands for public office can and should expect public scrutiny. They are asking voters to trust them to represent them in Parliament. In doing so, they owe it to voters to be open and transparent about who they are and that includes their personal background.

Uffindell has admitted that he thought the incident at King’s College would come out during his campaign to replace former National Party Leader Simon Bridges in the Tauranga by-election. On that basis, it would appear he made a decision not to tell voters himself but rather wait for the media or another candidate to bring it into the public arena.

What does that say about his personal integrity?

It cannot be a surprise to him that it would become public at some stage. New Zealand is a small country, people are closely connected and people talk. It appears, at least from what is in the public arena now, that he didn’t think the voters of Tauranga needed to know the information about the incident before they made a decision about who should represent them in Parliament. Not sharing this information smacks of arrogance – on more than one front. Either that he thought it would remain hidden or that if it became public that it would not impact him or the political party that he represents.

That he told the party selectors is a moot point. That’s not to undermine the role of the party selection process in choosing candidates to run for office, but rather that it shows a lack of respect for voters. The public deserves to have all the information about candidates when they cast their votes. At the heart of this is trust. Candidates are asking the public to trust them to represent them and in return, voters should be able to trust that candidates are being open and honest.

One of Uffindell’s opponents, Act’s Cameron Luxton, declared during the by-election campaign that he had a drink-driving conviction. Uffidell could have disclosed this incident then rather than saying, as he did at the time, that his biggest mistake was “not coming home to New Zealand sooner”.

There will be some who express sympathy for him as he has admitted his mistake and expressed regret. And, we do all make mistakes. But how they are dealt with matters – particularly if you are running for public office.

People in Tauranga deserved to have the information before they voted. It was for them to decide whether it mattered or not. It was not for the party or Uffindell to make that decision for them by not disclosing the information.


Jacqui Van Der Kaay, a former journalist, holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Victoria University of Wellington and has a specialist interest in political leadership, voter behaviour, immigration and how social media affects democracy.