Brash: I had the 57 votes

By Audrey Young

National leader Don Brash has revealed that the leaders of United Future, Act and the Maori Party were with him when he drafted and signed a letter to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters claiming he had 57 votes.

The question of whether Dr Brash had such support or not is important because it is what Prime Minister Helen Clark and Mr Peters cited as being behind the eventual outcome of Government arrangements.

The votes of National, the Maori Party, United Future and Act total 57.

United Future leader Peter Dunne denied he pledged support to National.

Two days after the meeting he and Mr Peters accepted ministerial posts outside the Labour Cabinet.

Tariana Turia also distanced herself from Dr Brash's claims he had 57 votes, and denied that the Maori Party had guaranteed support.

The letter, written last Friday, says that they were "willing and able" to enter discussions with New Zealand First about a National-led Government.

While Helen Clark called National's claim of having 57 votes "bluster and bravado", she said on Monday that the prospect of a 57 to Labour, 57 to National split with New Zealand First abstaining had been the driver behind getting New Zealand First and United Future to support the Government.

Dr Brash rejected a suggestion his claim of 57 votes had been wishful thinking.

"Absolutely not. I signed that letter in the company of the leaders of all the political parties representing 57 members of Parliament."

Asked if he felt Mr Dunne had been guilty of dirty dealing, Dr Brash said he would not use those words.

"He clearly came to the view that his party's interests were best served by being in some kind of relationship with Labour. And to be fair, he had said he was still in negotiation with Labour but he was willing to have that letter sent.

"I think until the very last minute, he didn't see himself being in a relationship with Labour."

Dr Brash also described the new arrangements for the Government as "very Mickey Mouse".

"I think the structure is inherently unstable."

The minority Labour-led Government is supported with confidence and supply agreements by Mr Dunne and Mr Peters. Generally speaking, they will be able to criticise the Government ministers but not the other way round.

Dr Brash did not believe Mr Peters, the new Foreign Minister, had the track record or social skills to foot it with international leaders.

"What does it do to New Zealand's foreign relations to have someone ... who has a track record of insulting many of the people in this region, who doesn't find it easy relating to the leaders of other countries?"

He would not expand on the claim.

Brash's offer

October 14, 2005

Dear Mr Peters

Following discussions this week with the Maori Party, United Future New Zealand and Act New Zealand I can advise that in the event that New Zealand First wishes to consider an alternative to supporting a Labour-led Government, there are parties representing 57 seats in Parliament willing and able to enter into discussions with New Zealand First to form a National-led Government.

I'd like to discuss with you the key policy platforms that would, with New Zealand First's involvement, form the basis of such a Government.

I therefore invite you to meet with me to discuss this proposal as soon as you consider appropriate. I look forward to your response.

Don Brash

National Party leader

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