Brash tries to shift focus from scandal to policy

By Paula Oliver, Mike Houlahan

National Party leader Don Brash yesterday attempted to shift the focus from personal and leadership issues by signalling a plan to discuss several major policy initiatives at his party's caucus next week.

Dr Brash, who was in Napier yesterday continuing his regional visits, refused to discuss his future as National leader.

The National caucus will meet next Tuesday and it is expected that his role will be raised. Dr Brash demonstrated that he intended to try to get back to dealing with non-personal issues.

He would not give anything away about the policy areas on which National's discussions would be focused, but said there would be three or four new issues that the party had been working on for some time.

"I couldn't announce them at this point, but they are quite chunky policy areas," he said.

But doubts about his leadership remain, and yesterday his former chief of staff Richard Long suggested in a newspaper column that a change of boss would be needed for National to win power at the next election.

National's gathering in Wellington next week will be closely watched for any hints of disunity. Several National MPs have openly rallied around their leader in recent days, but Labour has shown no sign of backing off from questioning Dr Brash's integrity.

Labour strategist Pete Hodgson yesterday called on Dr Brash to explain why he claimed to have never knowingly misled the public, and pointed out comments Dr Brash made over the Exclusive Brethren in which he denied knowing about its leaflet campaign, then admitted he had met members of the church.

In fresh developments, the head of the Diplomatic Protection Squad confirmed his organisation had become aware of someone following a person under its watch in the past two months.

Inspector Bruce Blayney would not say whether the person being followed was Prime Minister Helen Clark or her husband, Peter Davis, or someone else. But he did say that the individuals following the person were found to be "legitimate media".

He would not comment when asked about Helen Clark's claim that she believed private detectives hired by the Exclusive Brethren might have followed her and her husband.

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