|If Don Brash does stand John Banks in Epsom come the November 2011 New Zealand general election, will ACT lose its last toehold on power?
Consider this. Banks was an erratic social conservative while he was in Parliament, making Police Minister during the first Bolger Cabinet. Thereafter, he seemed to drift away from his Whangarei electorate into a Radio Pacific talkback host position. Hardly anyone noticed when he finally left Parliament back in 1999. Thereafter, he drifted into Auckland local body politics and served non-consecutive terms as Auckland Mayor, defeated once by Dick Hubbard and then by Len Brown for the post of Auckland Mayor of the new 'supercity' created through local body reform and consolidation. While he was in Parliament he was an outspoken homophobe, arguing that zoophilia would be next 'behaviour' to be approved by that august institution after passage of the Human Rights Act, and welcoming the advent of the Christian Coalition in Parliament in 1996 (which never eventuated, thankfully). Upon his accession as Auckland Mayor, he seemed to mellow and has even been spotted at "Big Gay Outs" during his tenure. He has become an identifiable fiscal conservative and the mayoralty tenure appears to have ended his earlier reputation for unreliability.
Can Banks win Epsom? Consider its last few MPs. Christine Fletcher and Rodney Hide were both outspoken social liberals, and the only sitting Epsom MP to be defeated was dullard National MP Richard Worth, who was forced to vacate his subsequent List MP position after an amusing sex and corruption scandal broke out. Worth was a notorious social conservative. Moreover, there's the matter of the strength of the pro-child vote in the probelting referendum held in 2009, which was the highest for the city within that particular electorate. The message seems to be clear- is it therefore a bad move to stand a former Auckland Mayor who had an appalling social conservative parliamentary record within this apparently urban liberal electorate?
If I were Brash or ACT, I'd stand a social liberal candidate there instead. It'd be ironic if that turned out to be Heather Roy, but she might well be the safest choice within this electorate. Otherwise, Brash and ACT might be vulnerable to gender gap considerations. If ACT degenerated into a neoconservative combination of fiscal and social conservative positions, that might become its death knell. Brash comes with an inbuilt liability- Brethrengate. One suspects Labour and the Greens will be busily exploiting that window of opportunity between now and the next general election. Craig Young - 6th May 2011