Hearing Don Brash express his views never ceases to make me cringe.

Almost everything he says is anti-Maori and the polar opposite to where my thinking is.

Part of the cringe is that I profited from those same views when he expressed them in his Orewa speech back in 2004.

It was then that National's polling sky-rocketed and, after an approach from then party president Judy Kirk, I decided to stand for Whanganui one more time on a National ticket — and finally won after failed attempts in 1999 and 2002.


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Any serious analysis of the 2005 election makes it clear that the Nats would have struggled but for Brash's speech.

Those very edgy views were expressed in billboards and further speeches and we candidates stood there and watched.

Not being in power and desperately wanting to win can makes us do things that, with hindsight, we would rather forget.

A change of leadership, thankfully, saw the party take on a different view — incoming leader John Key made the statement that Maori were tangata whenua within a day of his leadership being announced.

In spite of the meteoric rise from 18 per cent to 45 per cent under Don Brash and his controversial race-related comments, when John Key took over and signalled his opposing view, his polling did not drop but continued to climb. I felt a lot more comfortable.

But Don has built on his polarising and divisive comments and, in fact, being racially divisive has become his brand now.

The last conversation I had with him ended with me telling him that his preferred policies would take us back to the 1970s. He agreed, saying the 1970s race relations were exactly where we should be as a country.

Though bigoted and skewed views, Don would have well-researched as to why he truly believed this. So does that mean that although I wouldn't cross the street to hear those views, they shouldn't be aired in public?


It seems that when somebody from Norway posted on social media that someone should take a gun along when Brash turned up to speak at the Massey University campus, the vice-chancellor Jan Thomas — without consulting the police to assess the risk — canned the invitation, effectively banning him from speaking at Massey.

No matter which way you dice it, it looks like she was hiding behind "security concerns" for achieving a gagging order.

I would have thought allowing Don Brash sufficient opportunity to shoot himself in the foot among the free-thinking Massey student body would have achieved a far higher objective.

Now she has made a martyr of him and opponents and proponents alike are rallying to support his right to speak, which Don — in his "geekiest-kid-in-form-2" kind of way — will interpret as support for his views which will increase in volume and frequency.

Other venues and opportunities will succumb to the newsworthiness of the scrap, and will give him the oxygen he craves rather than risk the approbation of those crying foul.

You'd think that a university campus would be exactly the right place to host a contest of ideas.

You'd wonder how such a delicate flower could rise to the giddy heights of vice-chancellor, and why Don Brash should be spared the challenge to his 1970s – fifty years past its used by date — view of New Zealand's future.

*Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.