Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 24 November 2006 24 November 2006

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

The Brash Resignation

On election day 2005, Don Brash met at his Glendowie home with his closest advisors. Polls showed a race that was too close to call. And Dr Brash had prepared two election night speeches: a victory speech and a concession speech. The latter, as he revealed yesterday, contained the Michael Howard clause - a resignation.

The spirited debate that followed resulted in the offending clause being removed. Whatever the outcome, it was clear that the National Party had staged an amazing comeback. And Dr Brash needed to hang around long enough, at least, to ensure that the hard-won gains were well and truly banked.

Several weeks ago, with his party enjoying a substantial lead in the polls, he concluded that the time for a departure was close. He took lengthy counsel over the decision, and over the best time and manner to stage an exit. By earlier this month his decision was firm. The end of this week’s Parliamentary sitting was the designated time, leaving a successor only the end-of-year formalities in Parliament, before a long summer break to plan and prepare for the challenges ahead. His focus moved to two remaining items of untidiness: the outstanding campaign debts due to the GST mix-up, and the slew of emails stolen from his computer which had been the subject of Labour and NZ First taunts over many months. Both matters needed to be tidied for his successor.

The GST issue was resolved at this week’s meeting of the Party board. The emails were a more complicated matter. Injunction proceedings were the only means he could see of asserting his ownership, and flushing out those guilty of receiving his stolen property. The commentators have been too harsh in their assessment of the decision to go to Court.

Had the decision been made by a leader intent on remaining in office, their criticisms would have been accurate. But this leader had decided to go. He did not take political advice. He did not make a political decision. He made a personal decision to lance the email boil by the only means he could see available before departing.

The decks clear of the two remaining obstacles, this Thursday Donald Brash became the first National Party leader since Sir Keith Holyoake to leave office with no gun to his head.

Unique Political Leader

Don Brash must count as the most unusual leader of a major political party in recent New Zealand history. Just as his dignified, courtly bearing made him such a figure of contrast in the debating chamber, so has his courteous, reasonable and decent style of operation in private made him stand out in the seething mass of ambition, character assassination and ruthlessness that is party politics.

A man of formidable intellect and innate courtesy, Dr Brash has not always been an easy fit at the cutting edge of party politics. The Brash mind has, over many years and in a variety of public roles, been diligently applied to accumulating vast quantities of information, to be carefully processed with reason and logic. To him the idea that fashion should prevail over fact is anathema. And in the leader of a major political party, that can present its challenges. There are parts of the political process he could never understand simply because he could never see why people, particularly Parliamentarians, would behave so badly.

While the commentators have found such characteristics irresistible, the public has been smarter. They have intuitively understood the trade-off. A few pratfalls along the way are a small price to pay for a political leader so formidably intelligent, yet so transparently lacking in guile.

His achievement in leading a party from 20% to 39% at the polls in his first term in Parliament is unprecedented. He leaves with his party substantially ahead in the polls. And he richly deserves the special place he will occupy in the history of the National Party and New Zealand politics.

But those who now regard Don Brash as a spent political force may be very mistaken. He has made clear his intention, in the short term at least, to remain in Parliament. A substantial portfolio, he said yesterday, would be most welcome. An opportunity to serve as a senior Minister in the next government is most certainly on the agenda. The timing and terms of his exit from the National Party leadership leave him with huge status, and a significant menu of opportunities. We may very well hear quite a lot yet from Dr Donald Thomas Brash.


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