The Left are rubbing our hands with glee at the prospect of taking on BrashKey, but make no mistake, Key wanted this coup too. Think about it: former Nat Leader Don Brash, former Nat Minister John Banks, Nat money man Alan Gibbs, former Nat President Michelle Boag – and it goes down while John Key is far away playing smile and wave in Europe.
I’m not saying that something new on the Right wouldn’t have emerged anyway but clearly there were people behind the scenes pulling Brash’s strings in this coup (he’s actually looking increasingly like a worn-out puppet). And they were National people with National’s interests at heart.
Key’s guarantee to Hide that he could keep the salary and perks of a lameduck minister was obviously important in getting him to step aside relatively quietly. Just as Key’s indication last week that National wouldn’t run a candidate vote campaign in Epsom was an invitation to ACT that said ‘if you run someone half way decent, you’re saved, but we all know that’s not Hide’.
The way this all suddenly exploded just after Key left the country, with Brash looking more befuddled by anyone, was telling.
Ok, yes, Roger Douglas was strongly supportive of Brash’s coup and so was Heather Roy and, yes, Key has ruled Douglas out of cabinet and let Roy be deposed last year. But ruling out Douglas was always just election campaign positioning from Key that reassured New Zealand and letting Roy go may have seemed like the sensible thing last year when it was still thought Hide could win Epsom. Things change and when the interests of Key in having a coalition partner to the right combined with Douglas and Roy’s interest in getting rid of Hide of course they work towards the same end.
National’s Key faction thinks this will work well for National (the English faction doesn’t, because Brash will scare too many vote to the Left, witness Farrar’s fumbling of this issue). Indeed, the Key-ists think it vital. No-one seriously believes that National will poll over 50% in November. They’re on 51% in the latest Roy Morgan. In 2002, Labour was polling mid-50s well into the campaign but finally came in at 41%. People don’t want to trust one party as a majority government. If National doesn’t get 50% it needs partners. Dependency on the 2-3 MP rump that will be left of the Maori Party once Labour and Mana smash it is not acceptable. Don’t forget, the Maori Party still votes against National more often than not. Needing the Maori Party for the occasional vote is one thing. Needing them every time is another.
So, by this thinking, a rightwing partner is needed that can give a National-led government a majority it can govern with. A new party could have been established but what a hassle! Far easier to buy an existing one. Which is what they did. It wasn’t Brash’s ‘brand’ that ACT saw as a voter winner (‘vote for me, I’m that old, aloof, philandering, lying, racist son of a bitch who used to raise your mortgage payments and just royally screwed over a mate in public then took his job’). No, it was the money that came with him that ACT saw as its lifesaver.
National gets a guaranteed rightwing support partner (providing Banks, not Brash, runs in Epsom) and, in return, ACT gets to not face oblivion. Problem solved.
Except. Brash has a tendency to say what he’s thinking. And what he’s thinking is batshit crazy stuff that most New Zealanders want nothing to do with. This creates an opportunity for the Greens and Labour (‘a vote for Key is a vote for Brash’). It gives a great opportunity to New Zealand First and the Mana Party too. Even Peter Dunne sees the chance to reprise his role as the ‘common sense’ counter to a radical party, as he did with the Greens in 2002.
With a new Left party launching tomorrow, a three-way fight looming in the Maori seats, a new look ACT, the centrist parties smelling opportunity, Winston now even more likely to run in Epsom, confidence in government plummeting, National+ACT polling just 52%, and the spectre of Brash looming to send moderates back to Labour – this election just got a whole lot harder to predict.
And all it took was the destruction of Rodney Hide’s career… unless he makes a tilt for Epsom as an independent.