At last an upfront acknowledgement of the Exclusive Brethren’s support for National during the 2005 election campaign. According to Colin Espiner:
Day One of National’s annual conference is nearly over and so far the biggest clanger has been departing Tauranga MP Bob Clarkson’s thank-you to the Exclusive Brethren during his departing remarks to delegates.
There was some shocked silence and a few laughs but the look on president Judy Kirk’s face was priceless. Suffice to say she was not amused.
Bob Clarkson, who was thanked effusively for his “triumph” in beating Winston Peters in Tauranga last election, has just told the conference he had the help of 150 Brethren to do it!
I don’t think the leadership will be delighted with that admission. Interesting though. The delegates laughed but must have been dumbstruck at both the information and Clarkson’s generous parting gift to Peters’ campaign to reclaim the seat.
I am sure many within National would wish to see a veil drawn over that particular relationship. It isn’t that simple however. Having Steven Joyce, who was a key player in the Hollow Men, as one of their top list candidates is just going to keep Bob Clarkson’s revelations a live issue.
Mr Joyce has made no apologies for what happened in 2005, saying he worked to be a good campaign manager:
“I am just confident that everything that National did in that campaign among the campaign team was in keeping with the electoral act.”
John Key escaped much of the Hollow Men fall out and appears unconcerned at any of Joyce’s association with Brethren activity. According to Key, the party will benefit from Joyce’s political and business experience:
“Steven Joyce has over a number of years played an important role in the rejuvenation of the party…this contribution is set to continue in the years ahead.”
But how many National MPs feel similarly comfortable? And what does the future offer for Mr Joyce under the leadership of Key? Under National party rules it’s the leader who appoints the Cabinet (under Labour it’s a caucus vote).
Is Mr Key planning to have Steven Joyce sitting beside him around the Cabinet table? How will the current crop of MPs feel about the fast tracking of a man who brought considerable controversy to the party? What portfolios would Joyce be in line to get and at whose expense?
We’re used to headlines from Bob Clarkson, but full marks for his Brethren confession, even if it was on his way out the door. But with Steven Joyce moving into a top spot on National’s list, and Key’s ongoing support for Joyce, I’m expecting to see some fallout and rocky terrain ahead.