Title: The Strategy of the Exclusive Brethren Credit: Craig Young Comment Wednesday 11th October 2006 - 12:00pm1160521200 Article: 1448 Rights
Now that Brethrengate II has died down, it's possible to evaluate what the Exclusive Brethren's political strategy is. To recap. The Exclusive Brethren tried to interfere with the outcome of the September 2005 New Zealand General Election. It also tried to interfere with the Canadian federal Parliament's vote on same-sex marriage, and the Tasmanian Greens, as well as the Victorian Greens, have been targeted by this predatory organisation. Same-sex marriage and civil unions are amongst their targets, as is inclusive adoption reform, transgender rights, industrial relation safeguards and possibly, New Zealand's nuclear-free status. Traditionally, it tends to be the case the New Zealand Christian Right is notoriously subject to sectarian frictions. The Christian Heritage Party was never anything more than the political wing of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, and its blunders hampered one Christian Right initiative after another- witness the Christian Coalition debacle in 1996, and then the SPUC/Right to Life New Zealand schism in 1999. Destiny Church was little better, frightening mainstream New Zealanders with its Enough is Enough rally in August 2004. Does the Exclusive Brethren fit into this mould? Yes and no. Yes, the Exclusive Brethren is a sectarian organisation with little strategic sense. No, in that it pursued a different strategy when it sought to assist the National Party at the polls last year. However, its very strategic naivety has insured that it has contributed to perceptions that fundamentalist Christians are completely incompetent and useless at mainstream politics. Rapidly, it has precipitated a situation where the National Party has belatedly jettisoned it, after finally remembering that militant fundamentalist ineptitude is a liability at the polls, even if their caretaker Leader of the Opposition is still equivocating and prevaricating, trying to have it both ways. It remains to be seen what effect Brethrengate II nobbled their opinion poll ratings, given that it broke beforehand. Unbelievably, some Nats and cronies are still defending Brethren interference, arguing that the EBs did nothing wrong when it came to covert government lobbying. Granted, but there are worrying questions about whether covert government lobbying of this sort enhances democratic accountability and transparency. I'd argue not, and it is not 'persecution' of the Exclusive Brethren to argue so. Let them engage openly in the political process if they must. However, it is also hypocritical to argue that it is 'punitive' to try to render the Exclusive Brethren accountable for its past misdeeds. Political parties have tried to undercut the collective strength and cohesion of core constituencies of their opponents, left or right. The centre-right showed no such inhibitions when it went on its anti-communist witchhunt in the fifties, or when the New Zealand National Party passed employment contracts legislation in the nineties. And note Brash and Howard's Muslim-bashing comments at the moment. Therefore, Labour and its allies are entitled to curb the Exclusive Brethren. It is quite within reason to remove its special rights within industrial relations laws. It would be equally entitled to investigate its financial and property transactions, given recent disturbing comments about the former from ex-members. Whether it takes the form of a thorough electoral select committee investigation, or a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Election Finance, as the Herald's Fran O'Sullivan has advocated, campaign finance reform will not go away as an issue. Craig Young - 11th October 2006    
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