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An ominous sign for Labour

An ominous sign for Labour

By Lou Garvey

Lou Garvey is a Wellington freelance writer who specialises in Asia-Pacific affairs and foreign policy issues.

In the ebb and flow of Parliamentary politics there are often developments which are of themselves relatively minor in the total day to day workings of political combat but which do signal significant change.

One such moment occurred this week when National leader Don Brash was forced to confront the ill-timed utterances of his defence spokesman Simon Power, essentially saying that he supported an “all the way with Uncle Sam” stance in foreign policy.

Shock. Horror. National’s inevitably messy, but in the circumstances not too messy, public disposal of the Creech Report on the country’s anti-nuclear stance had been undone by ill-judged remarks by the inexperienced MP from Rangitikei.

At the same time the Prime Minister and her foreign Minister were trying their hardest to get media traction by dumping on Brash claimed comment that he had made in private meetings to American legislators that if it were left to him New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance would be dropped “before lunch”.

It was clear to many observers that the Government saw these alleged comments as a time bomb that could: a) divert attention away from the Governments foreshore and seabed proposals; b) open up a new front on the nuclear issue with a potential for political gain through to the next election whenever that might be.

It is likely that under the Bill English National Party the Government’s wishes may well have come true. But the Brash team is made of sterner political stuff. It turned the claimed comment back on Clark with charges of breach of confidence in the use of notes taken by a staffer of the foreign ministry. Headlines swung from opinions that may or may not have been expressed by Brash to questions about the Prime Minister’s ethics in using the confidential notes to hammer her opponent.

At the same time the prospect that the defence spokesman may well find himself part of a National reshuffle of responsibilities surfaced in other media reports, while Brash was asserting that Power’s comments did not represent party policy.

It was not a case of game, set and match to Brash. Nor game, set and match to Clark. But the playing out of this kerfuffle presented an ominous lesson to Labour that National for the first time since Clark came to office is now positioned to play hard ball to hard ball in the daily positioning grind of Wellington’s favourite sport.

PS: Might historic Australian terminology soon be due for dumping? “All the way with LBJ” may in 2005 have to give way to “All the way with JFK… II”.

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