National leader Don Brash found himself struggling to stay afloat yesterday as he tried to define who swam in the mainstream and who did not.

"Tackling the issues of mainstream New Zealand" was the slogan that dominated the party's annual conference at the weekend and peppered the speeches of all MPs.

Asked yesterday to spell out who was mainstream, Dr Brash said he would rather not go into too much definition, before referring broadly to unnamed minority groups the Government was pandering to.

Pressed by Radio NZ presenter Sean Plunket, Dr Brash mentioned Maori and funding targeted to them.

He then raised prostitution law reform and civil union legislation.

Did that mean he didn't regard gay people as part of mainstream New Zealand, he was asked.

"Well, they're clearly not, they're a small minority of people," he said.

Then another view: "I'm sure some of them absolutely are."

The slogan and comments drew immediate condemnation from the Government and from a Victoria University senior lecturer in gender studies, Alison Laurie.

Social Development and Employment Minister Steve Maharey said Dr Brash's mainstream New Zealand excluded "couples with children, working mothers, public servants, cultural industries, members of unions, new New Zealanders, Maori, single parents and New Zealanders who are gay".

"This is classic smear politics and is in line with Brash's billboards, which imply that if you're a member of an iwi, you aren't a Kiwi."

Dr Laurie said the comments were hypocritical, given that National was the party which had ushered in Human Rights Act changes to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

"Who is mainstream? Is Brash's wife? She's from Singapore."

What about National's new gay candidate Chris Finlayson - expected to win a seat in Parliament - she asked.

Mr Finlayson said he was "absolutely" mainstream.

"I totally agree with Don that there's no exclusive membership to mainstream New Zealand."

Mainstream: "The prevailing trend in opinion, fashion" or "a type of jazz based on 1930s swing style and consisting of solo improvisation on chord sequences."
- The Oxford Dictionary