Thursday, November 30, 2006

Brash's resignation


I am saddened but not surprised that Don Brash has resigned from Parliament. It will be all the better for him personally. He wont join ACT sadly, or Libertarianz even ;-)
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His legacy is viewed in mixed ways across the political spectrum. To those on the left he was an anathema, and many there have been spitting out the venom they accuse him of starting – when much of what he did was to challenge their comfortable little world. A world view that means that challenges are responded to by name calling, insults and their own bigotry – the bigotry against people who are personally successful, wealthy or foreign. The left talks about the rich the same way as southern segregationists use the word "nigger", it plays the envy card on demand. Most of all, the left were horrified that Brash's views on not giving Maori privilege through government measures, are held by a lot of New Zealanders, and National nearly won as a result. Labour's provincial heartland voted National in droves - Labour was only saved by the big cities and a concerted campaign to scaremonger voters in low income parts of Auckland.
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To the conservative right Brash was a godsend, though one they initially were wary of. However, he was groomed to say the right things at the right time to shore up that vote. A vote that, while probably topping little more than 8-9% all up (take the 5% max that the Christian Coalition could have cobbled together, and those who are too conservative to vote anything BUT National) was motivated to turn out and vote. Unfortunately, they were his undoing.
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To the libertarian right he was a godsend too, but in a different way. You see, Brash is, pretty much, one of us on many issues. On economics he believed in minimal intervention, in private property rights and in government getting out of the way. On social policy he was more concerned about delivering quality and choice in health and education, but unlike Libertarianz he believed in retaining a welfare state as a last resort. He was keen to promote a culture which was the antithesis of the New Zealand tall poppy syndrome, one which celebrated success. I heard Don Brash speak at a SOLO conference in Auckland and had some wine with him afterwards. At the conference he engaged in a formal debate about whether or not a government central bank was necessary, he believed it was and that there was competition in currencies between countries, so little need for it within countries. He responded to countervailing arguments intelligently and with good humour.
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He was was more libertarian than many in ACT. He was socially liberal, with little interest in censorship or the state interfering in people’s private lives. He didn’t believe in legalising drugs, but could understand the arguments in favour of reform. However, most of all, Don Brash could understand philosophy and the application of philosophy to public policy. He could debate intellectually about both. He is a gentleman, and at that time was simply a relatively newly elected MP. The group of us talking to him joked about him becoming leader, which of course he fudged – little were we to know.
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I have written before about Brash’s achievements. The positives are substantial. He broke the mould of the unspoken politically correct view on Maori. The view that essentially, they ARE oppressed, they need special government help and the law should treat them differently. He questioned that, something that when others mentioned it, they were shot down in flames by those proclaiming “racist”, in their Maoist like intolerance for reasoned debate. Whatever Key and English do to provide succour to the Maori Party, this issue is now out in the open.
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Brash put tax cuts clearly on the political agenda, he justified them credibly. Credibly because not only the surpluses that Dr Cullen spends, but also because of bureaucratic waste. People believe both that the government is wasteful and that it doesn’t need to tax so much to pay for publicly funded services that most people want (health and education). Tax cuts are no longer just the “give money to the rich”, they are “give me back my money”. It wasn’t the government’s money to spend in the first place.
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Also important are Brash’s confrontation of the RMA, one of the most anti-private property fascistic pieces of legislation in recent history. The legislation that allows all and sundry to delay what others do with their property, when it has little effect on them. He also confronted the welfare state, the notion that it was acceptable to have intergenerational welfare dependency, and to persist with the notion that it is caring to just keep giving people welfare.
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Those messages, along with Brash being himself. Being socially liberal, voting consistently for civil unions and prostitution law reform, COULD have won the election. Brash is liberal on social issues, he is not the conservative that some National strategists had him play up to, or that many on the left believed he was. Unfortunately the National Party could not stomach an intelligent economic and socially liberal leader. This is where things went wrong.
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Brash’s success in boosting support for National with his principled approaches to Maori issues (despite pointless statement on pure blooded Maori that meant nothing), taxation and welfare were seen by both ACT supporters, and the conservative Christian right as providing a platform, not entirely dissimilar from what worked for Bush in 2004. The idea that Brash could rally the largely ignored conservative right to vote National. Those voters had largely been burnt from politics firstly in 1996 when the Christian Coalition failed (thank God!) to get 5% of the vote, secondly by United Future giving Labour confidence and supply, and thirdly by Graham Capill’s revolting hypocrisy.
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Brash’s made three big mistakes:
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The first was to deny the Exclusive Brethren. The left has made much of this non-issue, a weird religious sect campaigning against a Labour-Green coalition and supportive of a National led government. That is no big deal, but Labour milked religious bigotry in a manner it would not even THINK of if it were Muslims or Maori spiritualists, to make it look suspicious. Brash should have said, as PC has once said, is the same as Reagan once said “"When people join my campaign, they are supporting me; I am not necessarily supporting them."
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This would have neutralised it. Unfortunately Brash, a political novice, was pressured by National’s spin doctors and strategists to lie – a typical political response, deny and lie and hope it goes away. It works for Labour, usually, but not the Nats.
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The second was to talk about “mainstream” New Zealanders and about families, and stumble when talking about race. He did this in order to get publicity and also motivate the conservative base to vote for a man who otherwise, is a liberal atheist. On families, he should have said little more than families are important and a family is any group of people who live together with mutual interdependence and love, and if pushed resist defining it further. He should have steered miles away from talking about the mainstream, alienating gay/lesbian/bisexual people, and Maori. He could have talked about government existing for all New Zealanders, giving no preferences but also no discrimination towards any minority, with the individual being the smallest and most ignored minority. Idiot Savant ripped into him on this, and made some very good points, whoever advised him to talk of this was a fool, and Brash was mistaken for doing this. It hurt National in the main cities.
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Finally, he simply did not act as himself. He was being protected, no doubt seduced by the promise that those who play the filthy game of politics knew better than he how to attract votes. In fact, it was his honesty, his gentle respectful manner, his combination of intellectual rigour and liberalism that attracted much support when it showed. When he was trying to be a politician, he got hounded for it - he's not convincing when he doesn't really believe in what he is saying.
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The left attacked him for being racist, until it realised that a large number of New Zealanders were also concerned with the prevailing bureaucratic view that you daren’t criticise any special government programmes/laws for Maori. The left attacked him as being only for the rich, until the National policy did not remove the top tax rate introduced by Labour, and large numbers of New Zealanders saw they would benefit from modest tax cuts (and knew that Labour’s surpluses were hardly sign of a government unable to fund the core services they wanted the state to provide). It was epitomised by Helen Clark calling Brash cancerous and corrosive, while Labour bemoaned the depths to which NZ politics had dropped – ignoring that Labour was supplying at least half of the ballast, and in enormous denial about forcing the NZ public to fund its pledge card.
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Of course Winston Peters, who actively played the race card in several elections regarding immigrants, is now Minister of Foreign Affairs. I’ll let the leftwing blogosphere reflect how principled and moral Helen Clark and the Labour Party really is given it chose Winston and NZ First, when it could have chosen the Greens or the Maori Party. It will simply blank that out though as being irrelevant - which it wouldn't be if National was in power - the hypocrisy of tribal politics.
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Aucklander at Large rightfully points out the personal toll politics imposes on people. It is high, and it is a game for the merciless, I hope Don Brash enjoys a break from it - and takes the opportunity to comment on the sidelines when and where he believes he can make a contribution.

2 comments:

Steve said...

I think it's wonderful that Brash has resigned.

Now we have a National Leader that is starting to sound like a greenie...

It's all good.

Anonymous said...

Steve, by 'good' you mean words like 'really bad', 'higher taxes' and 'more Government' surely?

EXOCET