Reports of Maggie Barry's alleged bullying probably came from someone within the National Party, it has been claimed.
Former staff members of the North Shore MP told NZME at the weekend she swore at them, used offensive language, discussed their sex lives and made them do party work against Parliamentary rules.
Ms Barry flatly denied the accusations, despite NZME having an audio recording of her calling someone a "duplicitous piece of shite", and documents in which she's described as a "terrifying" person to work for.
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Victoria University politics lecturer Bryce Edwards told The AM Show on Monday the allegations are at the mild end of the spectrum, when it comes to Parliamentary bullying.
"There's some swearing, there's some name-calling and stuff. I think you'll see a lot of other MPs that are quite shocked that these allegations have become front-page news, when so much worse goes on."
The real story, he believes, is who might be pushing the allegations into the public sphere.
"Sometimes we just assume an opponent of a politician is leaking stuff or kind of pushing the story forward - maybe someone in Labour or NZ First. But in this case, what I have heard is there is a lot of support for Maggie Barry to replace Simon Bridges as leader, especially amongst the membership. She has huge support.
"There's no doubt that there's people in the National caucus who have an interest in kneecapping Maggie Barry - it might well be someone in Simon Bridges' camp, maybe Judith Collins' camp has pushed the story along. It really is possibly a Nat-on-Nat kind of attack."
Ms Barry has yet to register in any preferred Prime Minister polls, but Dr Edwards says her name "keeps on coming up" in informal discussions around who could replace Mr Bridges, whose support has stalled at a paltry 7 percent.
"She's got a bit of personality, she's a very well-practised communicator, she's done well in her electorate. And she's a woman, which would put her in good stead up against Jacinda Ardern. It's a name that's being increasingly talked about."
But that doesn't mean the damaging story came from Mr Bridges' camp. Dr Edwards said Ms Collins "is the [David] Cunliffe of 2018, the most obvious person that really is hungry for being leader ", and perhaps sees Ms Barry as a threat.
"She's the most likely one, but as in Labour there was the 'Anyone But Cunliffe' faction, the ABC faction - I think there's also a similar faction in National that are searching around for someone like Maggie Barry."
Mr Cunliffe was popular with the Labour Party membership, but struggled to win over his colleagues in Parliament or the public, and in 2014 led Labour to its worst defeat in decades.
National Party members unhappy with Mr Bridges might fear a similar fate awaits them under Ms Collins.
"Not everyone's comfortable with the idea of Judith Collins taking over and being the new leader, if Simon Bridges should fall," said Dr Edwards.
Mr Bridges batted away AM Show host Duncan Garner's suggestion on Monday morning Ms Collins might roll him.
"You say that about every fiery female MP."
Ms Barry said investigations into her behaviour by Parliamentary Services cleared her of any wrongdoing.
"I have wished the employees concerned well and so I am surprised to see they are being repeated in a partial, selective and incomplete way," she said on Saturday, after the allegations emerged.
Newshub has asked Mr Bridges and Ms Collins for a response to Dr Edwards' comments.
Watch the full interview with Bryce Edwards above.
The AM Show with Duncan Garner, Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson, weekdays 6-9am on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.