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Is "The Donald" Doomed?

Thu 2 Dec 2004 In: Comment

On the same day that the Leader of the Opposition announced his capitulation to the far right over the Civil Union Bill, the Herald ran the latest opinion poll. George Santayana once said that those who are unable to learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. Certainly, "The Donald" Brash may have made a serious, or fatal, miscalculation. Over the last two decades, social conservatism extremism has been a liability to the National Party. In 1986/7, the Coalition of Concerned Citizens infiltrated and took over National Party electorate branches, resulting in some scary candidates that led to the Lange Labour administration's second term. Thereafter, central office quietly insured that there would be more representative candidate selection procedures, and Bolger was canny enough to promote capable liberal National MPs within its caucus. He didn't touch abortion legislation, and was willing to let his party pass anti-discrimination legislation in the early nineties. At that stage, National appeared to have learnt that bipartisan social liberalism would reap electoral dividends. However, the reverse is also true. In 1996, the electorate bolted at the prospect of a National/ACT/Christian Coalition 'toxic trio', especially when the Nats found out that the Christian Coalition might well flake apart on entry to Parliament, leaving them without an electoral majority. Accordingly, the Christian Coalition failed to pass the threshold and disintegrated into the Christian Heritage Party and Christian Democrats/Future New Zealand. In 2001, Bill English took over the National Party, and almost at once, he began to alienate social liberals from a previously pluralist centre-right political party. As time went on, internal dissension, disorganisation and incompetent organisational and parliamentary leadership led to the July 2002 election fiasco. When Don Brash took over, many thought that this would mark a return to the bipartisan social liberalism of the Bolger and Shipley era. Sadly, it didn't. Instead, National appears to have decided to position itself as compatible with New Zealand and/or United Future, prospective coalition partners, which may explain Brash's conversion to populist citizens initiated referenda. Or it may be that observers miscalculated the extent of Brash's social liberalism, based on his votes for prostitution and euthanasia law reform. As for the results, Labour now leads National by a twenty-vote margin in the latest opinion poll, which indicates that the Orewa blip is well and truly over. National's current leadership hasn't learnt from history. Fortunately, Katherine Rich is a strong leadership contender for the future, but the party seems doomed to a third consecutive term of Opposition, due to Brash's treachery. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost. Craig Young - 2nd December 2004    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Thursday, 2nd December 2004 - 12:00pm

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