Thursday, April 28, 2011

What a circus!

We’ve just seen Machiavellian political machinations like New Zealand never sees. Don Brash, full of chutzpah, hubris and arrogance of the highest order, decreed that he alone could rescue the faltering Act Party and therefore must be crowned as its leader—even though he wasn’t actually a member of the party.

Brash told them the Act Party “brand” under leader Rodney Hide was “toxic”, which is actually correct (polling indicated he was likely to lose his Epsom electorate seat, meaning Act would be out of Parliament). Brash also claimed he had big piles of money lined up behind him, but only if he was made leader.

Hide resisted, of course, and suggested that Brash might want to become a member of the party before mounting a coup. Brash said that was a mere procedural matter. Days of intrigue followed until midday today, when Hide was gone by lunchtime, resigning as leader and throwing his support to Brash, who had shortly before actually become a member of the party.

This circus led to people on Twitter mocking Brash. TV3 News reported: “It would appear, at least in the Twitterverse, not many people are pleased to see Dr Brash have another go at politics. At the time of writing, a Twitter search for "Don Brash" doesn't bring up a single positive tweet, but plenty of jokes.”

Since Brash’s annointing, the mocking has intensified, but so has the reaction of politicos, including the parties. The graphic at the top left of this post—which would be my Tweet of the Day—is from Peter Dunne, leader of the one-man United Future Party “caucus” in Parliament. It may be the only time I’ve completely agreed with him.

Dunne elaborated in his press release: “Today the reality of what will be at stake in the November 26 election has been spelt out clearly for all New Zealanders—and it should scare them.” After the obligatory sales pitch for his party, he added, correctly: “Don Brash is a rigid right-wing ideologue—give him influence and a hand on power and watch the New Zealand we know become a harsher, more brutal place.”

Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said, “Don Brash's extremist views on race relations should be of concern to the current Government.” Brash famously stoked racism in his 2005 campaign, while feigning shock that anyone would think he was marketing racism with an acceptable face. His campaign shouldn’t have surprised anyone: His advisers were the Australian PR firm that helped John Howard, the ex-Aussie prime minister, to use dogwhistle politics to win elections (in fact, they’re often credited with inventing the term).

"Dr Brash also needs to come clean about who his backers are this time," Turei continued. Secret backers financed Brash’s failed 2005 election campaign as leader of the National Party. "Dr Brash has after all just bought a political party as if it were a piece of plastic on a monopoly board. The public deserve to know who the banker for this operation is." I completely agree. Interestingly, the Greens didn’t use this as an opportunity to sell themselves.

And the Leader of the Opposition, Labour Party leader Phil Goff, said, “We know what Don Brash stands for. He wants to slash the minimum wage by $100 a week—putting more New Zealanders into poverty. Superannuation would also be on his hit list. Don Brash wants savage cuts to Government spending, including health and education. Working for Families and interest-free student loans would be gone and there would be a wholesale sell-off of our valuable community-owned state assets. This is what Kiwis could expect under a Government led by John Key and Don Brash.” And it is.

Goff, too, made a pitch for support, but only at the very end of his press release. Immediately before that, he said: “These are not the kinds of policies mainstream New Zealanders support. These are the kinds of policies that will hurt middle and low-income New Zealanders at a time when they are feeling the financial squeeze as a result of rising prices and National’s shambolic handling of our economy.” And that, too, is correct.

So for the first time I can remember, I agree with United Future, the Greens AND Labour all at once. But that’s just a measure of how much I disagree with Brash about everything. I think his arrogant, patrician and condescending hostile takeover of Act is pretty despicable.

And that’s one thing I learned from all this: It really is possible to have even lower regard for a person who I already thought was a contemptible disgrace to New Zealand.

Meanwhile, this circus Act is only warming up.

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