Paul Holmes on New Zealand
Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: Like a royal suitor, Brash sweeps Act into his arms


Whatever any of us writes in this journal this morning, whatever Fran or Paul or John A or John R write today, it's probably fair to say you won't see it.

You'll pore over the photos of beautiful Kate and the wedding dress and William in his Number Ones and examine the pictures of the Queen to see whether she was happy or grumpy and try and gauge how the Duke is doing and all that will probably be your reading for the day. I don't know.

But we had our own somewhat more modest spectacle here this week, a wedding of a different kind. Don Brash came 'a courting' and within days, Act was in his arms.

Who would have thought he could pull it off? Who would have thought his arrow would go straight where he aimed it? Who would have thought at the start of the week that by Thursday Rodney Hide would be a goner as leader?

You have to hand it to Brash. He's a curious creature. He is a conviction politician. He is there only because he believes we ought to be doing certain things and it frustrates him deeply that the Government seems to have no dramatic ideas by which to stem the nation's gradual economic decline.

Frankly, New Zealand is going nowhere. Borrowing $300 million a week is madness. Not welcoming Chinese money is madness. As Jenny Shipley told me on Q+A a couple of weeks ago, New Zealanders have to get over this thing about China and the Chinese or we'll be wearing Jandals.

But here he is at 70, still prepared to put his backside on the line in what should have been an impossibly Quixotic coup attempt. He is unfailingly courteous, Dr Brash. Unfailingly. He argues issues, not the man.

And he has demonstrated for the second time in his political life astonishing political timing. He is a man of logic. He could see Act heading south in Epsom under Rodney's leadership. He knew he had to act. It was nothing personal, he says, and I believe that. He feels that he'll bring some Nats back to Act.

If he does nothing but save Epsom for Act, his coup will have been worth it. But he has his eyes on double digits. That is a headache for National. If he brings the party up to double digits at the election, he'll want double digit power in any coalition.

There's a lot of complicated talk about whether this will deliver the Maori Party to Labour and God knows what. It's all speculation on a hypothesis this predicting the end results of MMP elections, which my old friend Mike Williams calls "bloody lotteries."

In the end, politics is all about numbers. If the numbers are such that the Maori Party can remain on the Treasury benches, if they can stay as part of a National-led Government, they're not going to talk away just because Don Brash is leader of Act. Why would you? What's the point? Why go back to Nowheresville?

But what is Brash's endgame? How will he get into the House? What is John Banks up to? Could John Banks necessarily win Epsom? Probably. He's well liked on his own side of town. And what will happen to Rodney, whose achievement on the formation of the Super City was so formidable and historic.

On Wednesday he was saying that Don Brash had made it clear there was no place in Parliament for him. On Thursday there was an almost freakishly jolly handing over of power. Bizarre.

But the political gall, or the political balls, if you like, of Don Brash are breathtaking. He took the leadership of the National Party in the same style back in 2003. Now he's done it again. Even his detractors will have to admit there is no one else like him in New Zealand politics.

What destroyed him in 2005 was his inability to handle Helen Clark, who was able time and again to make the principal campaign issue his involvement with the Exclusive Brethren, rather than the economy. Fair enough. Whatever works.

Equine mastery

Enough of that. How wonderful it was to see Mark Todd burst back onto the stage with his fourth win at Badminton. He tried retirement, for some years, did Mark, but it drove him to distraction, I think.

Now he's back, it seems, with the horses to take him to further glory. It was another magnificent achievement by one of our greatest sportsmen, a man revered not only here but throughout the equestrian world. Mark Todd is a great sporting star, a wonderfully funny person and a great friend.

That's why it was a pity such a disgraceful remark was made on breakfast television the very morning the news came though that he'd won. For God's sake.

Mark Todd is an MBE, a CBE, winner of two Olympic gold medals, four Olympic medals, two World Championships, a European Championship and was voted by the international equestrian community the Rider of the Century. He's trained winners of both the Wellington Cup and the New Zealand Oaks.

He won his first Badminton on his first attempt when he showed up in 1980, a young unknown Kiwi. He is this country's eventing pioneer. Now he's won his fourth Badminton, at the grand old age of 55.

I can't wait to see what he'll do at London.

- NZ Herald

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