When prime minister Key returned home from smoodging and rubbing shoulders with the world’s royalty and social elite he found a very changed political landscape by brash acts to his right and left.
If National MPs are not worried, they should be. And they have only themselves to blame. Political arrogance has once again come at a price.
Don Brash’s assassination of Rodney Hide came easily when ACT’s MPs got used to the fact that Brash was a lifeline to their tenuous political careers. No doubt Brash will want to use Rodney’s hide to erase ACT’s inauspicious past, and may even go as far as renaming the party. No doubt he will refresh the party’s list, while rewarding those who assisted in the coup.
A Brash led ACT presents a problem for National on many counts, not least is the fact that its votes will come almost entirely from National.
Brash’s one-law-for-all reputation will be welcomed by the many National supporters who rebelled against National’s affair with the Maori Party and in particular the astounding deceit and half-truths that surrounded the passing of the foreshore and seabed legislation. National’s MPs will now start counting the cost for voting for legislation many condemned in private or shrugged off as a reality of MMP.
Brash’s stand on race relations alone is likely to the transfer of enough votes to take National’s support below 50% and ACT closer to 10% than 2%. That means National can no longer harbour dreams of gaining an absolute majority to govern alone.
Secondly the emergence of Brash on the extreme right and Mana on the extreme left will define the media agenda of the election. The inflammable mix of Brash’s uncompromising stance on Maori issues and Harawira’s warrior style will no doubt be the medias focus , making it very hard for Key to play out the smiley presidential campaign he would have planned in the brief election window between the end of the Rugby World Cup and election day.
Thirdly, National will for the first time have to defend its right flank from one of its own. Brash will no doubt want to revive the Iwi Kiwi attack style campaign he used in 2005, but this time targeting John Key and National. That will leave the left (middle) flank open to Labour, but National is fortunate that for this election anyway Labour is still burdened by a gay/unionist image too scary for middle NZ.
The Mana Party on the other hand poses a problem for National in that while ACT is gaining strength, its other coalition partner, the Maori Party, is likely to be weakened and provide a nil return for the costly concessions made to it in the hope of retaining its favour. It is likely the Maori Party will be returned with only 2 or 3 MPs as it and Mana fight over the Maori activist vote, and in any case ACT is unlikely to support National if the Maori Party is part of the coalition.
National will therefore be left dealing with a demanding and focused Don Brash, quite the opposite of the born-again lamb-like Rodney Hide who made no secret of his admiration for the Prime Minister.