Monday, November 27, 2006

Back from the future

Pardon me if I don’t join the giddy chorus of chirping supporters of John Key, who today became the new leader of the New Zealand’s conservative National Party. Key replaced Don Brash, who finally resigned as leader last week after months of missteps and misstatements.

Key’s new Deputy Leader is Bill English, who was leader of the National Party until he was rolled by Brash shortly after National’s 2002 election defeat. English replaced the abrasive Gerry Brownlee, who got out of the way.

Both Key and English are social conservatives, and both voted against the first reading of
New Zealand’s Civil Unions bill, something even former leader Don Brash voted to support. The first reading sends the bill to committee where the public can have its say, so in some ways it’s just allowing the bill to get to the point where it can be properly debated. That Key and English opposed a move that Brash supported suggests that they may have a narrower view of New Zealand than Brash did.

The fact is, we just don’t know. Key’s too new to politics to get any sense of where his thinking lies, though Nicky Hager’s book Hollow Men (which is selling well, now the injunction is gone) is said to suggest he was in the thick of accepting secret Exclusive Brethren support for National’s failed 2005 election campaign. Bill English is generally a pragmatist, and it’s difficult to imagine him encouraging a sharp lurch to the right for National.

We’ll see if National finally forms a coherent vision of where it wants to take
New Zealand. The next election is in 2008, which is plenty of time for them to get their act together—or to change leaders again. Time will tell which it is.

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