John Armstrong doesn’t get much wrong in his assessment of the Brash takeover:
Ruthless Brash now National’s problem
… But his politeness, his disarming demeanour, his seeming reasonableness, the reasoned nature of his arguments, his seeming frankness (“frankly” is one of his favourite words), his willingness to acknowledge other points of view (even if he discounts their validity), plus his huge credibility built up during his years as a Reserve Bank governor all help him reach audiences other politicians can only dream of touching.
Brash was certainly more successful than many of us expected, but let’s not get carried away John. Brash’s economic message speaks only to a very few, and his populist racism is ground well trodden by other (hello Winston) politicians.
In staring down Hide to become Act’s new leader, Brash has drastically altered the whole election-year dynamic.
That remains to be seen. It might be a sea change, or it might turn out to be a storm in a beltway teacup. The more I gauge reaction from non politics junkies the more I tend to think the impact of the change is being overestimated by “insiders”.
Sure, Brash’s presumed rescue of Act may well give a grateful National the viable and self-sustaining long-term coalition or support partner it so patently needs.
Or maybe not, see above. Now to the meat of Armstrong’s comments:
Brash did not chair the 2025 task force on closing the wage gap with Australia just for the money. Brash has unfinished business with National on the economic front. More ominously for National, he also has unfinished business on the race front.
National has had it pretty easy in terms of friction with either Act or the Maori Party. Both support partners have put up only meek resistance to National, which has simply turned to one or other for legislative backing according to the ideological nature of a particular policy. Both partners have occasionally poked sticks at one another but without any rancour to destabilise National’s governing arrangement.
Act, for example, failed dismally to provoke a public revolt on the revised law covering ownership of the foreshore and seabed. The Maori Party ignored Act’s campaign because it had already won the argument and had largely got what it wanted.
Brash’s obvious intention to renew his long-time onslaught on Maori separatism and what he sees as the misguided notion of “partnership” as somehow being conferred by the Treaty will be a red rag to the Maori Party bull. It will go down well with those Pakeha who think National has kowtowed too much to Tariana Turia and her colleagues.
Brash’s message that National has made only glacial progress in reinvigorating the economy will also find favour with some who deem John Key and Bill English to be less than courageous on that front.
By “glacial” did you mean “no”?
Brash has tried to link the two broad issues, saying that unless tensions between Maori and other New Zealanders are resolved in the “right way”, New Zealand has “no show” of catching up with Australia in economic terms. The link seems awfully tenuous. However, Brash’s prescription for managing both the economy and race matters is going to make it much more uncomfortable for the Maori Party to be seen working alongside National, especially if Brash gains real traction with voters.
Brash’s return to the thick of politics does not mean Key’s popularity is going to suddenly plunge. But Brash’s presence will offer a test of whether Key’s high personal poll ratings are by default of there being viable alternatives. The first price National may have to pay for Act’s survival is foregoing the possibility of winning an outright majority on its own in November.
With Labour down to its core support, the only source where Brash can realistically pick up votes is from National.
Here I’ll fix that for you – With Labour’s support within margin of error of its level at the last election…
If Brash takes votes off National’s right flank, Key cannot compensate by moving more to the centre. He is already positioned about as far to the centre as he can go. Key’s priority, however, will be to underline that positioning by stressing that any revival in Act’s electoral fortunes will not automatically force some lurch to the right on National’s part.
Key’s ruling out of any likelihood of Brash becoming the finance minister is an important signal in that regard given Phil Goff, Winston Peters and even Peter Dunne are trying to make political hay by warning of such a rightwards shift. …
In the meantime, National Party headquarters will now be poring over the two reports produced by the 2025 task force to see where policy compatibility is possible. Despite Brash’s disclaimers, these documents are close to being an Act manifesto. In one stroke they have gone from gathering dust on the shelf to becoming required reading in the Beehive.
For the sake of New Zealand, I very much hope not.
So with some quibbles, A thoughtful assessment from Armstrong I think. Brash, with his Hollow Men legacy, anti-Maori posturing, and loony economic policies, is very much Key’s problem now. What will the public make of Brash + Key?