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Cablegate: Opposition Leader Brash Resigns; Key Tipped To

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OO RUEHCHI RUEHFK RUEHHM RUEHKSO RUEHPB
DE RUEHWL #0928/01 3280310
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O 240310Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3527
INFO RUEHZU/ASIAN PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION IMMEDIATE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA IMMEDIATE 4621
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON IMMEDIATE 0150
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 WELLINGTON 000928

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
NOFORN

STATE FOR D (FRITZ), EAP/FO, AND EAP/ANP
NSC FOR VICTOR CHA
SECDEF FOR OSD/ISD JESSICA POWERS
PACOM FOR J01E/J2/J233/J5/SJFHQ

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/24/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL NZ
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION LEADER BRASH RESIGNS; KEY TIPPED TO
TAKE CHARGE

REF: WELLINGTON 924

Classified By: DCM David J. Keegan,
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

Summary
-------

1. (C) SUMMARY: New Zealand's main opposition party leader,
Dr. Don Brash, has resigned after weeks of speculation over
his leadership. Dogged by a series of gaffes and missteps
that raised questions over his political judgment, Brash
announced that the National Party will caucus on Monday to
pick a new leader. The charismatic John Key is the likely
contender. A former investment banker with Merrill Lynch, Key
remains an admirer of the United States. He rates high with
the NZ media and in polling, but many caucus members remain
uncomfortable with his lack of political experience.
Meanwhile, the gag order has just been lifted on the book
reportedly containing allegations of National Party campaign
malfeasance, which served as catalyst to Brash,s departure.
The author claims it also contains information damaging to
Key. End Summary.

Brash,s often turbulent leadership comes to an end
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (SBU) Thursday afternoon, November 23, Brash announced his
resignation as National Party Leader. Brash,s decision
follows months of missteps, and there have long been rumors
he would be removed by his caucus. But the speed of his
departure was something of a surprise. In a hastily called
press conference, Brash said he could no longer continue as
leader because of continuing speculation about his future.
Although he claimed to have been considering his future for
some time, it is probable he knew his caucus would not
support him following his latest political misstep over a
soon to be published damaging book (reftel) . Brash declined
to commit to staying in Parliament, saying it would be up to
the new leader to decide if he had a future within the party.
Brash,s resignation is effective from Monday November 27
when National,s caucus will meet to decide who among its MPs
will become its next leader.
And that leader is likely to be John Key
----------------------------------------
3. (SBU) Even though anything could happen behind the closed
caucus doors, Monday,s meeting to pick Brash,s successor is
likely to be a straightforward transition to a John Key
leadership. Soon after Brash,s resignation announcement
Key, National,s Finance spokesman who has long been
considered a potential leader, officially threw his hat in
the leadership ring. Although former Party leader Bill
English has refused to rule out a leadership bid he will
probably not mount a challenge to Key as he is unlikely to
win. On the day Brash resigned, Key got endorsements from two
senior National MPs: Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee and
Industrial Relations Spokesman Wayne Mapp. National will
want a smooth transition to the next leader, as a divisive
contest could damage the party,s political fortunes going
forward (particularly at a time when it is outstripping
Labour in the polls). National Front bencher and shadow Trade
Minister Tim Goser told DCM Thursday evening that National
will move quickly to endorse Key and prepare to challenge
Labour.
4. (C) Although the top slot is essentially secured, the
Deputyship is wide open. Incumbent Brownlee refuses to say
whether he will seek to retain his position. Other contenders
are: Law and Order Spokesman Simon Power, Economic
Development Spokesman Katherine Rich and Welfare Spokesman
Judith Collins. Brownlee has the edge as an experienced
street fighter, but National may wish to improve its
currently poor standing with female voters by selecting a
woman for the slot. English is not believed to be interested
in serving as Key,s deputy, and he may expect to be offered
the coveted finance portfolio in return for his support.
Labour will be nervous about Key
--------------------------------
4. (C) Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen claims to be
bullish at the prospect of facing a potential Key leadership,

WELLINGTON 00000928 002 OF 002


but its probable both he and Prime Minister Clark would have
preferred the status quo. Labour has often easily exploited
Brash,s lack of political savvy, his struggle to perform
within the adversarial bear pit of the Parliamentary debating
chamber and his tendency towards embarrassing gaffes. Key has
none of these weaknesses. In the 2005 campaign Key bested
Cullen on the critical tax reform debate, scoring valuable
political points for National. Additionally, a former very
successful investment banker raised by his Austrian-Jewish
widowed mother in NZ state housing, Key is a rags-to-riches
story who appeals to New Zealanders. He also offers a more
modern, fresh and dynamic leadership which could contrast
with Labour, widely viewed as becoming stale and staid after
7 years in power. Clark and co. will try to exploit Key,s
relative political inexperience: he entered parliament in
2002. However, Key has learnt the political game fast and
will likely prove to be a more dangerous opponent for Labour
than Brash.
COMMENT: U.S.-National Ties Will Remain Solid
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (C) Amid the swirl of speculation surrounding National,s
next leader, the looming presence of Hager,s book, "The
Hollow Men", remains (reftel). Among the allegations
reportedly contained in the book are ones concerning a
clandestine relationship between the National Party and some
US neo-conservatives during the 2005 election campaign. Post
has not seen an advanced copy of the book but understands
that this section will essentially take the form of name
and shame, exercise. If the public reaction to this
allegation is found to be politically damaging for the
National Party, it may seek to publically place some distance
between it and the US. But as reported reftel, we have heard
the U.S. portion of the book is not prominent. In any case,
Key is an admirer of the United States and friendly to
Mission New Zealand, and other National contenders are the
same. We anticipate continued good relations with the party
no matter who takes up the reins.
McCormick

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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