Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Life (And Death) Of Brian

Every political party has its clever people. They live and breathe the game of politics far more than policy itself. There was once a time in the National Party when a tiny group of activists were individually referred to, in private, as the “Nth most EVIL person in the National Party”. There were about four of them in total. They played poker, stayed up all night at Party conferences brokering information, and argued the future of right wing politics.

They existed as a de facto group of Young Turks, arguing for change in a tired old party that was destined for a long walk in the wilderness until they reformed their Old Guard. It was a strange assortment of Wellington-based folk: they loathed Winston and his coalition, and believed that after nine years of selling the same team to the public, the public would bite them back. 1999, and 2002, proved exactly that.

The Labour Party has had its cabals: their internal and external factional powerbrokers will plot and plan its future even when the going is good. Helen Clark, Pete Hodgson, Trevor Mallard, Steve Maharey, Phil Goff, and David Benson-Pope have no great policy framework for the country. They simply enjoy the thrill of wielding and trading political power. Their unity is contingent on their ability to read the political tea-leaves and stay ahead in the polls. When they fail in that respect, they disintegrate. It’s now a matter of survival for them, since they have become Labour’s Old Guard. It is tired and reactionary. As Helen Clark comes under fire for strategic mis-steps, her only instinct is to fight back as viciously as her instincts can.

The atmosphere at the Ellerslie Racecourse on election night, September 17, 2005, was electrifying. Don Brash, the rookie MP who had become rookie National leader in his first term, had managed to double National’s vote at the polls. There were well over 1,000 supporters present. In the space of a year, Brash had rebuilt the National Party from near annihilation to within a whisker of the Government benches. He had rebranded the Party, and in his wake, had brought forth a whole new battalion of MPs.

Twenty-three of National’s current MPs are new faces. They owe their places in Parliament directly to the brand that Don Brash took to the country last year. That, coupled with the overwhelming support he got for taking the leadership on before the election, make his personal support in caucus very strong.

Brash’s leadership position isn’t set in stone. It is dependent on his ability to keep National in the lead. But with an eight point difference, and gaining, between National and Labour, only an absolute moron would suggest that National dumps Brash. Bill English and John Key may have leadership ambitions: but both know that they are far better placed to inherit the Prime Ministership when Brash chooses to step down, than to cause squabbles in the Party that prevent either of them becoming Cabinet ministers after the next election.

It is now a statement of political fact that only a complete moron, or a Labour Party supporter, would advocate Don Brash relinquishing the leadership of the Party when he has Helen Clark, and the Labour Party, so clearly spread on the racks. To their credit, the Labour Party is saying precisely that. Not content with losing the battle over their misuse of taxpayer’s funds on the pledge card, and finding that their strategy of personal smear against Don Brash made them less popular with the public, they are simply calling for his head.

In the last week, Labour’s Pete Hodgson has issued no less than nine press releases calling for him to resign. It seems slightly bizarre that Hodgson, who is also Minister of Health, has had nothing health-related to talk about at the same time that Helen Clark vows off attack-politics. It is the equivalent of parliamentary stalking from Hodgson, and a strange kind of obsessive-compulsive behaviour from a man whose only strategic contribution to Labour in the last few weeks has been a strategic collapse of Labour’s support base.

Labour wants Brash’s leadership to become the issue. They need him to go if they have any chance of sneaking through another election. It’s understandable that they would target him. Yet they have become so blatantly obsessed with him that whatever they say from this point forward can only cement his leadership. Helen Clark’s government has become so untrustworthy that the more Labour attacks Brash, the more the public want him as Prime Minister.

National’s caucus, with one glaring exception, has been impeccably disciplined in recent weeks. They maintained a clear focus of attack on Labour’s corruption, and did not hold back from that clear focus when Labour started a dirty war. They did not retaliate on Labour’s terms. They maintained their dignity when Labour dragged National’s leader through the mud, and refused to speculate on Labour-driven spin on Brash’s leadership.

Labour has continued to lie and obfuscate, to its own detriment. Whereas once political commentators admired a Prime Minister who could stand up and openly claim that she had had conversations with Gallery journalists confirming various rumours, now the Gallery journalists are not prepared to go along with her spin. Kevin Brady, the Auditor-General, has made it clear that he will not accept untruths told about him, for the sake of the Prime Minister’s political expediency. That brilliant gall, which allowed Helen Clark to spin her way out of any controversy, is failing her. Her spin has lost any subtlety. Voters simply do not trust her.

Which brings me to Brian Connell. The Rakaia MP has studied Helen Clark over the past four years, and has formed the impression that he too is worth of a large office on the ninth floor. Except Connell has never understood subtlety. When a lone MP makes a dig at a party leader, it is wise to have other MPs supporting him. Connell hasn’t. The preposterous spectacle of the Labour Party egging Connell on, suggesting that Connell is a symptom of some gaping faction within the National Party, has ridiculed the mid-Canterbury MP. After writing his own political eulogy, by leaking discussions of a caucus meeting to the Independent’s Tim Donohue, Connell has finished his career himself.

Connell claims not to have been the leak after the caucus meeting. Instead, when the Independent story broke, Connell responded to media inquiries, saying that he was not the leak, but that since the information had been leaked, he was free to comment on it. That, of itself, constituted an act of shit-stirring that is unacceptable for a member of a political party. If Connell had said absolutely nothing to the general media after the original leak, it is possible he could have avoided sanction from the Party. That he chose to speak publicly confirming the caucus discussion demonstrates a baffling degree of political stupidity expected of Judith Tizard and her ilk. It’s not befitting of a National Party MP.

Connell is, of course, technically telling the truth about the caucus leak. Connell did not speak to Tim Donohue after the caucus meeting. Except two facts are crucial, and have not yet come to light. Firstly, Donohue, who is very close to Brian Connell, was able to quote events at the caucus meeting word-for-word. Secondly, Connell has refused to release his cellphone records on the day of the caucus meeting to the Whip’s office. Don Brash, and the National Caucus, have considerable reason to believe that during the caucus meeting, Connell’s cellphone was on, and open in a call to Tim Donohue. Connell didn’t have to comment to Donohue: he had the discussion verbatim anyway.

That act of sabotage by an MP has no place in the National Party. Brian Connell doesn’t represent any kind of tradition of “Young Turks” in any political movement, except the Labour Party.

They’re welcome to have him. With Taito Phillip Field on the way out, they may well need him.


sagenz said...

thats a reasonably bold assertion about connell which would be defamatory if it were not true. I assume you are certain of your facts.

I blogged on a similar theme to yours yesterday. The extra element being that Labour think they can take down John Key in the publics eyes once they have got rid of Dr Brash.

I think the message we bloggers can take from the recent events is to redouble our efforts.

david said...

That is amazing. Unbelievable act of treachery to ones peers to allow an outsider to list to confidential conversations. You are right about Labour being desparate to get rid of Brash. They really want Key there so they can go back to their same old same old smear the capitalist style. You know , the smear where they paint the right as being selfish and not really caring.Whilst they blithley take advantage of minorities like the good people of Mangare who deserve so much better.

spam said...

Hmm. Is it Connell's cellphone, or that of his employer?

My employer has the right to look at cellphone records for calls I make on my work cellphone.

Insolent Prick said...


Connell isn't employed by the National caucus. Parliamentary Services is not his "employer". I very much doubt there's any mechanism by which the National caucus can require him to hand over his cellphone records.

Yet he refuses to do so. There is now further evidence in the public domain that Tim Donoghue had his story pre-written before the caucus meeting: Connell tipped him off before the caucus meeting that he was going to raise it.

peterquixote said...

even though polling figures IP, Brash will not leads any party to Government, this is the problem, on the right we have no charismatic leader,

Anonymous said...

Don has ALREADY lead his party to one election victory

He lost for precisely two reasons:
1. the corrupt spending
2. the Maorimander

next time around, he would face the same two obstacles.
the Maorimander is getting worse.
the funding rules will get worse.

The government must be removed, and the rules clarified by someone who is not a member of the labour party, before we have another election

In which no member of the labour, NZF of Green party may stand or vote.

That's the only way to restore confidence in NZ's political system

Anonymous said...

Brian Connell will go down in history as a heroic whistle-blower. There must be National member from the centre right, the pragmatic group, that secretly agree. The full story has not been told but here is my opinion.

I don't think Connell had accomplices in achieving what he did for the nation. The allegations of marital issues were undenied - in fact he sent Don scurrying to save a marriage.

Diane Forman is no ordinary Wellington based hostess. I heard she was a mover and shaker of the extreme right up in Auckland. Is that true?