Joe Hendren

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Are National MPs starting to organise against Brash?

There is ongoing speculation "plenty" of National MPs want to reduce the influence of veteran adviser Murray McCully on leader Don Brash. This is reported to include senior figures such as Lockwood Smith and Simon Power.

McCully currently works as a "Parliamentary Assistant' to the leader of the Opposition.

One source said Mr McCully, who is MP for East Coast Bays, had been part of several strategy teams that had presided over election losses. His abilities were overrated and had at times played a role in poor decisions, the source claimed.

"Plenty of us are unhappy with his influence," the source said. "He has a huge influence over Brash and we still can't understand why. If Brash doesn't start to listen to the broader caucus then he won't survive."

Although Brash won a routine caucus reaffirmation of his leadership following the election, not even Brash is sure whether he will lead National into the next campaign. Those with leadership aspirations, together with those with an axe to grind are now jockeying for position in case an alternative leadership candidate emerges.

Some MPs were unhappy with what they saw as McCully's role in the demotion of MP Katherine Rich from the welfare portfolio after she refused to support the more extreme aspects of Brash's beneficiary bashing.

National insider DPF warns this is about the tenth time since the 1993 election he has heard speculation about the imminent demise of Mr McCully (which in itself speaks volumes about the popularity of the man within the party!). But the real issue here is not whether McCully stays or goes - the moves against McCully have more to do with Brash remaining National's leader.

Some MPs are looking to McCully to be the fall guy for the election loss, others see him as being close to Brash and the type of operator who would work out pretty quickly if someone was 'doing the numbers' within the caucus. The first stage of a palace coup is to take out the palace guard.

More significant, however, is Simon Power wish to gain a major portfolio instead of continuing as Whip of the National Caucus. It is a convention of New Zealand parliamentary politics for the Whip to unquestionably follow the will of the leadership, even internally. This suggests a reasonable explanation for the reason Power does not want to remain as Whip - he wants a free hand to faction against Brash.

Power once held the undemanding portfolio of Defence, only to be fired by Brash for making a hash of it by saying National's foreign policy would be to support our close allies, Australia, the United States and Britain, without reservation, "when and wheresoever our commitment is called upon" (fired for telling the truth perhaps?).

In the Press today Brash makes the position of McCully a confidence issue, warning that those critical of McCully may not get the job they wanted as a result. This barb is clearly aimed at Power.

The latest TransTasman newsletter says McCully attempted to brush off the criticism of his influence over Brash but "has revealed he believes the matter is being pushed by former party golden boy Simon Power". Rakaia MP Brian Connell, better known for his wish to throw cats into fireplaces, is also named as an MP keen to reduce the influence of McCully.

In the event Brash is removed from the leadership (or more likely, Brash is 'convinced' to step down), it is possible the moves against McCully and the change of Whip will be seen as the first steps in the political death of the Don.

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