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Cablegate: Polls Shows Brash Surviving Scandal, so Far.

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV NZ
SUBJECT: POLLS SHOWS BRASH SURVIVING SCANDAL, SO FAR.

REF A WELLINGTON 725 B WELLINGTON 721

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) An alleged extramarital affair has not diminished National
Party leader Don Brash's popularity with voters, according to a
recent poll. Kiwis seem to be registering distaste that their MPs'
private lives are being made public. But many analysts believe that
Brash's handling of this incident has again shown a lack of judgment
that will almost certainly lead to a leadership challenge later in
the year, if not the coming weeks. Meanwhile, PM Helen Clark has
raised the public mudslinging another notch by accusing National of
being behind rumors that her husband is gay. End Summary.


Support remains for Brash despite allegations
---------------------------------------------

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2. (SBU) In the first poll after Brash's alleged affair was made
public (reftels) the Herald on Sunday Digipoll, which historically
tilts towards Labour, reveals that support for Brash as Prime
Minister has actually grown 1.6% (Brash still trails Clark 51.3% to
24% in Preferred PM polling). National also continues to lead Labour
in the party vote, at 44.2% to 39%. Amid increased speculation that
Brash's days as leader are numbered, the poll also reveals that
Brash at 31.6% still leads his nearest rival, John Key at 21%, as
Preferred National Party Leader, and 24% vs. 10.8% as Preferred
Prime Minister.

Brash's popularity largely linked to public sympathy
--------------------------------------------- -------

3. (SBU) Most Kiwis are apparently more upset about the intrusion
into Brash's private life than the allegation that he had an affair.
The poll shows that the vast majority disapprove of MPs bringing the
private lives of colleagues to public attention (73.8% disapprove
vs. 20.9% who approve). With a fairly relaxed attitude towards sex,
Kiwis seem largely unperturbed about Brash's alleged marital
transgression, with a solid majority (67.2%) believing Brash should
continue as National's leader.

But hold on leadership still not secure
---------------------------------------

4. (SBU) The public may sympathize, but given that most kiwis still
do not support Brash as a future PM, his caucus may not be as
sympathetic. Brash's grip on the leadership is now considerably
looser. According to a National Party source, caucus confidence in
his ability to deliver an election victory is beginning to wane. The
media continue to speculate about his possible replacements and are
beginning to coalesce around Key. Many analysts believe that Brash's
lapse in judgment in having an affair while publicly speaking about
the sanctity of marriage will almost certainly clear the way for a
leadership challenge before the 2008 election, or even much sooner.
A National Party insider tells us that Brash should not be comforted
by a lack of discernible maneuvering by his caucus to remove him,
which the source attributes to senior National MPs' belief that
voters will see an immediate challenge as opportunistic. Analyst
Barry Gustafson imagines that "if (National) were going to move
against Brash, the ideal time would be before Christmas, just before
everyone goes off on holiday."

Stakes rise as PM's private life now under scrutiny
--------------------------------------------- ------

5. (SBU) Meanwhile, PM Clark has stepped firmly into the fray,
pointedly asking a journalist over the weekend how Brash could now
speak of integrity in Parliament. But mud is sticking to her as
well: Investigate magazine, whose editor has firm right-wing
beliefs, has openly questioned the sexuality of Clark's husband
Peter Davis. Photos of Davis being hugged and kissed by an openly
gay close family friend have graced the magazine's pages as well as
that of the popular Sunday Star Time Star newspaper. A furious Clark
blames National for the smear campaign, which Brash has strongly
refuted.

Comment: End Game for Brash Approaching?

6. (SBU) By Kiwi standards, the current political climate is now

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defined by unprecedented levels of tit-for-tat personal mudslinging
and vitriol. While the personal intensity has increased, the
relative standing of the players remains about what it has been. The
only apparent change is the readiness of Brash's colleagues in the
National Caucus to find a new leader at the first opportune moment.

McCormick

© Scoop Media

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