Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Muck Raking.

As I suspected last week, NZ politics has just got a lot murkier. National Party Leader Dr Don Brash is now away from Parliament to deal with marital difficulties. In essence a rumour that’s been circling for some time that he was having an extra-marital affair has become public knowledge. Not since Labour Prime Minister David Lange left his wife for his then speech-writer Margaret Pope has a political party leader had to deal with such a personal issue under the glare of public scrutiny.

It’s a line that the NZ media rarely cross and it’s worthy of analysis to try and understand how this state of affairs has arisen. The catalyst was probably comments made in Parliament during Question Time last week when Dr Brash was quizzing Prime Minister Helen Clark over the Taito Phillip Field affair. Labour Cabinet Minister Trevor Mallard interjected challenging Dr Brash to elaborate on his own affairs. It was a very unsubtle dig at the National Party Leader’s personal life and patently obvious to those who witnessed it.

Now it’s not uncommon for snide suggestions to be made in Parliament about political opponents. But when another Cabinet Minister joined the barracking, David Benson-Pope, the suggestions went well beyond a veiled hint or a sly dig. In effect it was gutter politics.

However Labour can’t be solely blamed for the affair hitting the headlines. Some of the responsibility lies within National’s Caucus. At National’s Caucus meeting on Tuesday one of its MP’s asked Dr Brash whether there was any truth to the rumours. Dr Brash said he wasn’t going to be talking about his personal life. Things then degenerated as the MP kept pressing the matter in face of some strong opposition from his colleagues. It’s my understanding this MP was the one that leaked details of the Caucus meeting to Independent Financial Review reporter Tim Donoghue. The result was a front-page splash this morning. The National MP broke established rules, shattered Caucus confidentiality, and basically cut the legs out from his leader. He has to bear some responsibility for what has happened.

Questions also have to be asked of the MP’s motivations. Some time ago he was slapped down by Dr Brash and demoted after breaking the ranks on a party policy. Is it too far fetched to assume he may have been holding a grudge?

Whatever his reasons Dr Brash’s leadership of the National Party is under pressure again. The ever-present leadership vultures are already circling. The Party may circle wagons around Dr Brash for the next few days, but depending on how he handles the situation, those with aspirations for the top job will roll him if they can.

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