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Tripping on weakness and unpopularity

The end of Don Brash’s political career will, no doubt, signal a new era for the National Party.  Already, John Key has made vast moves to distance himself from Don Brash’s political agenda, which could be described, perhaps, as a strong move towards the centre, or even the left, from the right-wing policies of Brash’s time.

The demise of Don Brash as leader is probably a good thing for the National Party.  Key has the image, the charisma and, dare I say, the youth (or for what it’s worth, lack of age) that Brash lacked.  He and Bill English will, I have no doubt, be in perfect shape to gain sufficient popularity to unseat Labour at the 2008 election.

But the loss of Brash from parliament is the cloud to that silver lining.  For someone that tripped over on politically naïve mistakes so many times, you could probably argue that his resignation was inevitable (indeed, all politicians eventually screw up and go).  But his right-wing policies were not, as some would have it, insane.  He did not propose any racist policies (despite what the Māori Party might think), they were by large one-standard policies: he just messed up his wording once.  His idea of social welfare was never to ditch it, it was just to expect something in return from long-term recipients.  In fact, whether or not they were far-right is debatable: they looked to me more like sensible compromises to left-wing ideas.

In John Key’s series of speeches outlining his views and policies, he outlined beliefs and ideals rather than solutions.  This, perhaps, is what separates Key from Brash.  Whereas Key made it abundantly clear that “within that [one] standard of citizenship we should celebrate the cultural, religious and ethnic differences we all bring to New Zealand”, Brash left it to be implied, and the implication was rather unsuccessful.  Key has been talking about missions and goals and visions, maybe even ideals, perhaps: this is what will make Key succeed where Brash failed.  Brash brought forward smart ideas, but failed to clarify his overall visions.

In his farewell, we must not forget that it was Don Brash who led his party so close being in government.  It is fair to say that he would have made a less-than-ideal prime minister.  But his tripping up on marriage issues and alleged ties with the Exclusive Brethren (which he, if nothing else, clearly hated, otherwise he wouldn’t have been denying it, right?) led to a fall too far.  His insight would have been a useful asset for the National Party.

Did Don Brash make the difference he entered politics to make?  He made a significant difference indeed: he brought oft-overlooked but topical issues to proper debate, and more importantly, he led the National party to a significantly higher number of seats in Parliament. 

He’s taken a beating over the past few years, though, and even if it might be a sore loss in terms of policy reasonability, his departure is vital to National’s image.  Ironically, it could even be said that his leaving politics will make a difference in almost the same way as his arrival did: when he came, National made a rise in politics; with him gone, National will probably make another one, one that, perhaps, will see them overtake Labour in 2008.

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