The Don Brash revivalist show

The symbolism of an Easter uprising might be lost on most people without some knowledge of British history, but not, it seems on Don Brash, erstwhile leader of the National Party, hopeful leader of the Act New Zealand party, and possible leader of a new political party.

Dr Brash's recent activities may appear to represent an uprising against Rodney Hide and Act, but at the moment they look much more like traditional stage farce, with doors opening and closing unexpectedly and characters behaving with manic inconsistency. Dr Brash claims Mr Hide approached him, months ago, to be co-leader of Act, and Dr Brash announced his intention to take over the leadership of a party of which he was not yet even a member.

He is not the first politically minded and ambitious individual to want to unseat Mr Hide but he seems to be the first to attempt to do so without being a party member, let alone a member of the party's caucus. And quite what party is Dr Brash talking about wanting to lead?

Is it the Act party of its founder, Sir Roger Douglas, who now sits, Buddha-like, in one of Parliament's back rows, tossing the odd theoretical hand-grenade into economic debates as an Act MP? Act today is certainly not the party he founded: it is a much more moderate, accommodating concern. Is it the party of Richard Prebble, another former leader, who no longer sits in Parliament, and who was for so many years Sir Roger's "hard-man" sidekick and echo?

Is it the party of Mr Hide, even? It would seem so, but only with the greatest reluctance given the apparent teeth-gritting going on as its existing handful of MPs express their loyalty. They know, more than even Dr Brash, their survival wholly depends on the great reward of MMP - an electorate seat, currently Mr Hide's Epsom. Dr Brash is being characterised in some quarters as an angry, grumpy old man trying to find another outlet in which to express his not inconsiderable ego.

He appears to have partnered with another former National Party politician, also no shrinking violet, in ex-Auckland mayor John Banks. These two may well represent the extremist end of the pensioner political class, but do they represent anything else?

In an interview with Dr Brash the other day he was reminded of his infamous "Orewa speech" when National Party leader, and its consequences for him within the party: support in the caucus rapidly disappeared from those who thought he was taking the party too far to the right. Dr Brash rather ruefully agreed with the interviewer that the party had effectively left him, rather than the reverse.

He now appears to believe - as Mr Hide has already proved - that Act is a better fit and he can lead it into a significant place in Parliament, possibly in coalition with a new National government, and it is said he has the backing of Sir Roger and another Act MP, Heather Roy (who also once entertained leadership ambitions).

To do so he will need to jump several hurdles: he will need to join the party, lodge a leadership challenge, win it, then take a united Act into the election in November and emerge with at least one electorate seat or 5% of the vote.

In 2008 Act managed to garner a mere 85,500 or so party votes, or 3.65%. It is in Parliament (and in coalition) only because Mr Hide won Epsom. Dr Brash says Mr Hide is taking Act into oblivion, and that he offers a "lifeline". But he has also said he would set up his own reform party (apparently with Mr Banks) if he does not become Act's leader.

On the data from recent elections, that would guarantee Dr Brash and his supporters the kind of oblivion he predicts for Mr Hide unless he or Mr Banks can win an electorate seat, which is a very long shot indeed - except if the National Party plays ball, as it has done with Mr Hide in Epsom.

There is an historical footnote to these events: nine years ago the then president of the National Party approached the then governor of the Reserve Bank and asked him to stand for the National Party, of which he became leader the following year - intent on resurrecting the party's fortunes.

The country may not want Dr Brash back, but National could need him again.


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