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September 18, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Week in Politics

If, by the time you read this, Don Brash (National, List) is still the Leader of the National Party, I will be surprised, but I will not be pleasantly surprised.

Just when things were getting quiet again and the House was settling down after a terrible week of finger pointing, someone lobs in a grenade. And who was that somebody? A leak from the National Caucus isnothing new, but a leak this personal can only be intended to cause damage.

You would have to be a one-eyed National supporter to ignore the rumours of a leadership challenge. TVNZ has John Key floating about as the third most popular PM candidate, while Brash’s popularity has seemingly found its ceiling. Likewise, it should be obvious that Dr Brash’s public image has changed since the election. Some people liked Brash’s ill fit in the politician mould, a man who came to politics to serve; a polite (to the point of sexist at one debate) campaigner, refusing to yield to muck racking. But he has changed since September. Where “baloney” was once the worst thing he could respond with in the house, he’s now upped his repertoire to include “crap” and “bastards”. He refused to appear on TVNZ to debate with Peter Hodgson (Labour, Dunedin North) as he “only debates with the Prime Minister.” And his recent attacks on the integrity of the Labour Party, and the allegations of corruption, have put him in a position where he is prepared to be no cleaner than those he accuses.

This is not been the first time Brash’s private life has been questioned. In 2004 he wrote a letter to the Dean of the Christchurch Cathedral, Peter Beck, criticising him for allowing PM Clark to speak there, commenting: “You will be aware of my views that it is not appropriate for a cathedral to be used for such purposes, even leaving aside the Prime Minister’s atheism, her abandonment of grace at state functions and her indifference to the institution of marriage.” Days later, Brash was forced to confront his infidelity with his first wife, and his divorce and remarriage to partner Je Lan just four months later. He should have learnt then that any MP who uses a moral pedestal must be ready to defend it.

For those MPs who would attack any other’s integrity external to their job, I can only say that you are scum. And we have seen a lot of it, even recently, for example the David Benson-Pope (Labour, Dunedin South) scandal. While National’s main attack, and the reason why this stuck around a long time, was the issue of misleading (lying to) the House, at the root of all this was a character assassination of Benson-Pope by political opponents.

The TV footage of Trevor Mallard (Labour, Hutt South) retorting “…speaking of affairs!” while a stunned Brash spoke in the House was compelling viewing, but it’s hard not to see now what he was alluding to, and that’s walking down the same dark path as his fellow colleagues in the House.

But Brash isn’t the only one who will be hit by the shrapnel. Mallard’s outburst could bite back on Labour, and they will be trying very had to distance themselves from this in official circles (but I would not be surprised if there were a few posters going up around the campus and the city attacking Brash’s integrity). National’s own support could stall, or fall. And then there is the leadership battle that seems likely to proceed now. The leadership battle could uncover the factions within the Nats: a faction loyal to Brash, and two factions of similar size behind John Key (National, Helensville) and former leader Bill English (Clutha-Southland). It will be interesting to see if these faction act in the next few days. A statement from Key, interviewed on radio later on the Wednesday, saw Key unafraid to see youth wages differently from his leader:

“I’m not one of the hardcore, hard right wingers who says ‘get rid of the minimum wage; you don’t need it.’ Some people take that view, I personally think it has a place and I don’t have problems with it rising.”

Let’s be clear here. There’s no evidence that Brash has had an affair (although a lot of rumour), and likewise, no evidence that these allegations have come from the recently resurfaced Brash emails. But allegations are all you need in politics. Like the old saying goes; “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” and this story is tasty pulp for the printer.

Let’s face it, politics is dirty. And an MP’s life is stressful, to the point that it attacks their constitutions: Former PM David Lange was a tee-totalling, happily married, devout Methodist when he entered the House. By the time he retired as PM in 1989, he was having an affair, heavily drinking and in spite of a stomach stapling, still no healthier. There are numerous stories of MPs who have fought marriage and drinking problems while serving the House. Even people like Charles Chauvel (Labour, List) and John Key had taken a pay cut to become MPs. The true mark of political integrity is the level that one is prepared to sacrifice themself for the good of your constituents, and that goes for everyone, whether they are running for Parliament or VUWSA president. Brash will have some time considering this point.

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