|What are we to make of the resurrection of former National Leader of the Opposition Don Brash, reconstituted as new leader of the faltering ACT New Zealand Party? It isn't good news for us.
For the reason why, one only need to rewind recent New Zealand political history to 2004. After spinning a story in Express that he was a centre-right social liberal, Don Brash led the National Party backward into the mire of social conservatism, encouraging Judith Collins to propose an anti-abortion private members bill to amend the Care of Children Act 2003, then opposing the Civil Union Bill in 2004, as well as supporting Gordon Copeland's pre-emptive same sex marriage bill in 2005. Between those two acts of legislative betrayal, he had led National to defeat in a controversial general election, marked by bribery and corruption. As Nicky Hager noted in his Hollow Men (2006) account of that period, he and his party had received money and logistical assistance from the right-wing Exclusive Brethren cult in Tasmania, which had published anonymous leaflets against Labour and the Greens. As a result, National lost that election. Brash continued as leader until his caucus recognised that Brethrengate would continue to dog the party unless it made a clean start and ended his leadership. Brash stepped down in 2006 and resigned from Parliament.
Since then, he has also been linked to the new Reform Party, an alternative centre-right satellite party for National, trying to muster enough party members to qualify for registration under the Electoral Act 1993, and thence on to contest Epsom. However, Brash has instead decided to take over the creaking, decrepit edifice of the deeply factionalised and declining ACT New Zealand Party. As matters turned out, his clout as former National Leader of the Opposition and Reserve Bank Governor proved too irresistible for the ACT caucus. On Thursday, Hide accepted the inevitable and stepped down as party leader. I suspect what may now happen is that an ACT List MP may step aside and enable Brash to enter Parliament on a rejigged ACT party list. I wondered why ACT was so quiet when National sneered at the malleability of Labour's party list. As to whom that might be, it could be either Sir Roger Douglas, who intends to retire at the next general election, or former ACT Deputy Leader John Boscawen, a Hide loyalist.
As to the reaction of the general public, we won't know that until the next opinion polls are out and the public has had time to digest the leadership change. It might well look worse for ACT, given that it has abruptly dumped its leader for someone else this close to the next general election. Mind you, ACT has only had three leaders over the last seventeen years of its existence- Richard Prebble, Rodney Hide and now Brash. Brash will inherit a deeply factionalised and depopulated party. Moreover, given the last time that he was a political party leader, he heavily turned off female voters, one wonders whether this may have benefits for Labour and the Greens in November.
Needless to say, Don Brash's revival is not good news for us, given his earlier social conservatism and opportunism as National leader. One hopes that this time, he will have learnt to stay well away from extremist religious groups waving large chequebooks.
Recommended: Nicky Hager: The Hollow Men: Nelson: Craig Potton: 2006. Reform Party: http://www.reform.org.nz/ ACT New Zealand Party: http://www.act.org.nz Craig Young - 28th April 2011