Joe Hendren

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Key refuses to rule out a challenge to National leader Brash

In my post yesterday I highlighted recent ructions within the National party, and suggested these little public flare ups may indicate some National MPs are already beginning to prepare for the day Don Brash loses the leadership of the party.

In the Sunday Star Times today Ruth Laugesen suggests some of Brash's colleagues are measuring him up for a body bag.

Following reports "plenty" of National MPs would like to reduce the influence of Murray McCully on Brash, Mr McCully has now signaled his intention to step down from the role as 'Parliamentary Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition'. This is not a clear victory for McCully's critics, as the lack of a fancy title is not likely to reduce his access to Brash.

According to Laugesen, McCully is giving up the post because he wants to put some distance between himself and Brash, so he is free to prepare the ground for the next leader. So even McCully might be joining the game of bullrush out Brash's door.

Laugesen suggests McCully would back John Key when the time comes.

In a recent interview with Helen Bain, John Key refused to rule out a challenge to Brash in the next three years. "These things are something you consider when you get nearer the time" (in other words, I can't wait for the opportunity).

"I have no intention of challenging Don, but you can't ever rule those things out. I'm supporting him and it's genuine. There is no grand master plan behind the scences, like we go after him after six months," Key said (if there was a master plan, do you think I would tell you?).

But Key also said there might be "other circumstances" in which his intentions might change, although they were "not on the radar' (In other words, I might do something if our poll ratings drop, or Don demotes me or one of my mates).

It is also possible Bill English could mount a comeback. In a recent speech on the Treaty of Waitangi many noted the more respectful tone English took towards Maori, in contrast to the sloganeering of Brash at Orewa and during the election campaign. While Brash says he backs the speech, it is yet to appear on the National party website.

Given another go at the leadership, English may attempt to fashion a more 'thoughtful' image, more in keeping with his strengths. When English was leader, some suggested it was McCully who attempted to coach English away from this, in favour of a more typical (nasty) Nat approach. While English is often painted as more of a centrist within the Nats, this does not take into account his views on education, which are close to the radical right prescription of the two-seat Act party.

English does not owe Brash any favours, especially given the clumsy fashion in which Don undermined Bill's leadership of the party before mounting a formal leadership challenge against him. The continued clumsiness of Don in itself suggests an orderly change of leadership in the National party is not likely to happen. Its going to get messy. In the next few months will we see another National MP seek to undermine Brash (other than the cat-burning Brian Connell), allowing John Key to take over as a 'compromise' candidate?

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