Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Don Brash Must Go

I’ve now had quite enough of the National Party, their tactics, their friends and especially their leader, Don Brash. His actions have amply demonstrated his incompetence and he’s displayed an hypocrisy that makes him unfit to be leader of a major political party, much less Prime Minister.

This is not about his extramarital affair as such. Like most New Zealanders, I don’t really care about that. However, I was reminded the other day how he used to criticise Prime Minister Helen Clark for her “indifference to the institution of marriage,” this despite his own indifference to two of his own marriages. That’s called hypocrisy.

National’s posturing on the issue of election “overspending” is also more than a little disingenuous. They were found to have “overspent” $10,000, which they promptly paid back. But would they have been so keen if there had been a couple more zeros on that? There are very real concerns about what appears to be the auditor-general’s arbitrary reinterpretation of the rules and National’s grandstanding is making it hard to deal with that.

Brash’s strategy is to poison the air so much that it makes Labour seem so toxic that voters will turn to National by default. He seems to think that being in opposition means merely opposing, with no responsibility for providing an alternative.

When we look at the alternative Brash offers, it’s certainly not appealing.

Near the end of the last election campaign, election materials suddenly appeared attacking Labour and, in particular, the Greens, and also promoting Don Brash’s National Party. The materials turned out to be paid for by members of a secretive far right Christian fundamentalist sect called the Exclusive Brethren. Among other things, the sect forbids its members to vote, though they’ve spent millions promoting right wing politicians or fighting gay marriage in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

Brash denied ever meeting them, then he was later forced to admit he had. At first he claimed he knew nothing about their electioneering plans in NZ—which cost by most estimates a million dollars or so—then he admitted they had mentioned it. Some National Party members of Parliament now think that this “support” may have cost National the election, and I would tend to agree. Don Brash does not.

In recent days, it’s been learned that members of the group hired private investigators to follow Labour Party ministers, including the Prime Minster and her husband, in an attempt to find “dirt” to use against them. In Australia, the Melbourne Age has been reporting on the group’s large spending on election campaigns against Labor (as it’s spelled in Australia) and the Greens, and in favour of anti-abortion, anti-gay parties and candidates.

So it came as a surprise over the weekend when Brash said he’d met with members of the sect after the election, and he would be willing to do so in the future. A logical question would then be how long, exactly, has Brash been meeting with these people, and what did they want?

As if to head off those questions, on Tuesday Brash ordered the National Party members of parliament to reject all contact with the Exclusive Brethren, though he still says their campaign interference didn't cost National the election. Then he got Caucus to suspend Brian Connell, whom Brash blames for leaking news of his affair to the media. Whether Connell was a scapegoat or justly punished is something only the members of the National Party caucus can answer.

However, Brash’s actions seem to suggest he’ll say or do anything to become Prime Minister. He’s gone after Maori, beneficiaries, and rails against “political correctness”, which is a far-right code word for anything perceived to be even slightly left of centre, including not only Maori and beneficiaries, but also gay people, women, immigrants—in short, anyone who’s not a conservative white person, and a white male in particular.

He’s been dishonest with New Zealand, most notably about the Exclusive Brethren. But he’s also had the cheek to lecture Labour about honesty and integrity when he himself couldn’t tell the whole truth about his dealings with the extremist sect or even his own marriage. And we’re supposed to “trust” someone who exhibits that sort of disconnection from reality and truth?

Maybe it’s not his fault. Maybe he got in over his head and couldn’t find a way out, so he—quite accidentally, mind you—kind of, sort of misled the public about certain things. If so, there’s a name for that, too: Incompetence.

If National really does want to be in power, then they need to get rid of Don Brash. The longer he stays, the more he has to “correct” the things he’s said, the more he woos far right religious extremists the more people will come to agree with Helen Clark that Brash’s leadership is cancerous and corrosive. The choice is National’s now, but it will be ordinary New Zealanders’ choice in two years. Does National really want to put it all at risk again?

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