Suspended Labour MP Gaurav Sharma probably doesn’t realise it, but he did his leader a massive favour when he messaged journalists to reveal a secret meeting had taken place without him.

The 8pm meeting on Monday was secret because neither Jacinda Ardern nor any of her staff disclosed it was taking place, because they knew a meeting ahead of Sharma’s fate being determined on Tuesday would look bad.

It does look bad because it suggests natural justice hasn’t occurred and the decision was pre-determined.

If the details of Monday’s meeting, which Sharma wasn’t informed about or invited to but found out about after one of his technologically challenged colleagues accidentally sent him a screenshot of it, hadn’t made its way into the public sphere until after his suspension was announced, the consequences would have been far worse for Ardern.

It’s difficult to claim natural justice took place after you’ve already suspended an MP and not been transparent about deliberately excluding them from a meeting ahead of the official one.

Ardern and her team had at least an hour heads-up that questions would be asked about the nature of Monday’s meeting and why it wasn’t disclosed.

And her justification for keeping it hidden needed to stack up with her comments 24 hours earlier at her post-cabinet media conference.

On whether Sharma would attend the caucus meeting to determine his fate, she replied: “It does not constitute a full caucus unless everyone is invited, so, of course, for natural justice, of course Gaurav Sharma would be a part of that meeting.’’

Yet five hours later at 8pm on Monday night a meeting of the caucus, minus Sharma, took place.

Ardern was left dancing on the head of a pin describing the meeting as not being a caucus meeting because not all the caucus was invited.

She says the non-caucus meeting was called after Labour MPs expressed a desire to meet in an environment where they could speak freely without any risk that Sharma would go public with what they said.

Whilst not disclosing a meeting about the fate of the Hamilton West MP isn’t on the same level as the Uffindell debacle, it still speaks to a party’s judgment when it comes to transparency.

Ardern said the meeting on Monday night had two clear rules, it wasn’t an official caucus meeting, and it would not make any conclusions about Sharma’s future.

Many will accept that explanation, and many of the points raised for its necessity are fair, but fewer would accept it at face value if Ardern was trying to convince people of it in a few days’ or weeks’ time.

As it stands, she was already having to justify the meeting after it had happened – justifying it further down the track after Sharma had long been suspended would have been far more difficult.

The meeting was never going to remain a secret in a caucus of 64 MPs.

Uffindell, the National Party leadership and the board learned that lesson last week when details of the new backbench National MP assaulting a high school student when he was 16 years old at King’s College came to light.

National leader Christopher Luxon, with the benefit of hindsight, said he would have publicly disclosed the incident during the Tauranga by-election, if he’d been told about it.

The overwhelming response from Tauranga voters was they should have known ahead of the by-election because they expect transparency from their politicians.

Whilst not disclosing a meeting about the fate of the Hamilton West MP isn’t on the same level as the Uffindell debacle, it still speaks to a party’s judgment when it comes to transparency.

The outcome of the two meetings matters, but so does the process. In this case suspending Sharma from caucus and avoiding a by-election is certainly a good outcome, but the process to get there doesn’t reach the same bar.

At this point Sharma may still decide he doesn’t want to be part of the Labour Party and would prefer to serve his electorate as an Independent MP.

Alternatively, he could accept the suspension but continue to speak out against the party and Ardern would be forced to bring forward the review set down for December and consider expulsion.

If Sharma plays by the rules, then he could be welcomed back into the caucus too.

Ardern described the suspension as “our conclusion to this episode’’ – with any luck it will also be the conclusion of withholding information.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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