The Nats have reached a pretty pass. They appear to have little option but to endorse Don Brash today. Change is desperately needed. While his coup seems amateurish, Dr Brash is their only credible option. Bill English has done himself such mischief with his indecisiveness that he can't be resurrected. He's a decent man with a good mind. He was a competent minister, too. But a leader who can't show in the polls relegates his whole party to the shadows. If Mr English steps aside as Australia's Alexander Downer did a decade ago, he could still be a force within National. But if he tries to soldier on then both he, and the party, can kiss goodbye to the next election. That's why Labour wants him to stay. He won't be Prime Minister. He must know it. Surely his colleagues have worked it out?
New and politically inexperienced Don Brash might be, but he could provide hope to the legions of potential centre right voters currently at the edge of despair. What National needs is a new, authoritative face, one with a track record for taking hard decisions. There are plenty of them that Labour currently fails to confront. The Government has thrown away its growth strategy. That means New Zealand's standard of living will continue lagging behind Australia, America and Britain. Tax creep hits more and more people as their incomes rise; increasing compliance costs hurt business and local government; and the burgeoning Treaty industry is directing power and resources into racial separatism. There is talk of two standards of citizenship. Such issues are tearing up our long-term aspirations. An overly prescriptive mentality in the Beehive wants to regulate our daily lives and tell us what to think. It stifles creativity. Margaret Wilson, Steve Maharey and Tariana Turia seem to be the ones setting our national agenda. A group of mischievous minds with dangerous agendas, born of no real life experience. Then there's the poverty industry that continues to thrive despite a decade of better than average (for us) economic performance, and which the Labour Government feeds, albeit grudgingly.
These are issues ready made for a determined, purposeful leader who isn't afraid to advance solutions. Some are potentially popular like "one standard of citizenship" and an end to the foreshore and seabed controversy. An announcement from National that it would assist in legislating a freeze to the law as we believed it to be before the June ruling of the Court of Appeal, then negotiate from there, would bring sighs of relief from both Maori and Pakeha. Other issues are more difficult to solve. Yet, as Australia's Malcolm Fraser once said, life at the top isn't meant to be easy. Advancing the concept of a responsible society where work becomes the handmaiden of reward may appear to threaten some, short term. But longer term it would release many from the oppressive trap of poverty dependency that blights so many lives in this country. The behaviour of roughly 20% of the country undermines the other 80% of us each and every day. Dependants over-breed, underachieve at school, are high in the crime and child abuse statistics, and are the major contributors to carnage on our roads. A recent statistic was genuinely scary. More than 40% of new recruits to the DPB are Maori. It's a national disgrace. It shows that the bottom of the heap is growing in size, and that "closing the gaps" has become a farce. Labour offers us nothing to look forward to except an ever- larger cycle of mayhem and misery, one that the Government's toleration of separatist racial policies makes more dangerous.
The Nats have recently been playing ineffectually with some of these issues. They need a decisive leader who is able to tackle hard and ruck out some sensible conclusions. Like Bill English, Don Brash possesses decent human values. But his years growing up in the Manse, his experience overseas with the World Bank, and his steady stewardship of monetary policy over fourteen years, indicate a safe, sensible pair of hands, and a style that carries conviction. More than Mr English, he understands that the major social problems are inter-connected and require change across a broad front. Surely he's worth trying? The Nats' only other option seems to be to shut up shop for the foreseeable future. In the world of MMP where voters have options, that could, as Dame Thea Muldoon has pointed out, be dangerous for National's future.