Brethren Links Bring Down New Zealand Opposition Leader

The Exclusive Brethren’s recent habit of involving itself in political campaigning and scheming (despite not allowing members to vote in elections) is a phenomenon that has been noted in several countries; I looked at activities in Australia and New Zealand back in September. In New Zealand, the Brethren’s politicking has now had dramatic consequences, with the resignation of National Party opposition leader Don Brash. Brash’s links to the Brethren and other right-wing groups and individuals are exposed in a book by Nicky Hager, The Hollow Men, which was subject to a gagging order for several days due to its use of Brash’s private emails. Brash himself denies that the book is the reason for his resignation, but most commentators are sceptical. The book has now been covered extensively in the New Zealand press; news website Stuff gathers the reports in one place.

At the heart of the scandal is the disjunction between Brash’s public persona as a centrist and his secret backing from the radical right. Brash’s desire to downplay his links with the Brethren appears to have led him into dishonesty:

A key chapter in the book deals with the party’s Exclusive Brethren ties, including claims that on May 24 the Brethren outlined plans for a $1 million campaign to Dr Brash and finance spokesman John Key.

Dr Brash has said the first he knew of a Brethren pamphlet campaign was in August last year.

…The book also refers to a little publicised campaign by the Exclusive Brethren in April 2005 attacking Labour’s defence and anti-nuclear policies.

“The ads would be saying things that many senior National Party people privately believed, but which they could not say openly without losing public support,” Mr Hager writes.

…The book claims that former National Party chief of staff Richard long had arranged with the Brethren that they would have a consistent line in the event of media questions about National’s prior knowledge of the advertising.

More general links with the Christian Right are also explored:

…Brash was a social liberal who supported the Civil Union Bill allowing a form of marriage between same-sex couples. But Hager argues that he lost his nerve as the polls fell and conservative Christian lobbyists turned up the heat. Bruce Logan, director of a Christian think-tank, the Maxim Institute, told him that “by supporting (the bill) National will gain a few votes. By rejecting it you will get thousands.”

…As part of his campaign to woo the Christian fundamentalist vote, Brash visited the Greenlane Christian Centre for a closed youth leadership conference during the election campaign. The next day, his PR man Bryan Sinclair sent an embarrassed email to the organisers saying that a photo taken of Brash might find its way into the mainstream media, who would use it “to deliberately embarrass both Don and your own organisation”.

The reason for Sinclair’s concern, writes Hager, “was that when the meeting prepared to pray, the leader had asked everyone to raise both their arms in the air and Brash had been photographed in this not very mainstream pose”. The organiser assured Sinclair that the digital photo had been deleted. Sinclair forwarded the news to Brash with a one-word comment: “Hallelujah.”

Away from specifically religious links, American readers might be particularly interested in one political detail:

…The Hollow Men contains e-mails detailing planned and actual meetings between Dr Brash and Dick Allen, a key figure in the campaigns of previous United States presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

…Dr Brash was introduced to Mr Allen through former National Party staffer and political commentator Matthew Hooton and the pair corresponded and met face to face.

Mr Hooton advised Dr Brash’s office to keep the meetings secret because of Mr Allen’s “ultra” right-wing status, which had generated hate websites in the United States.

(Cross-posted to Talk to Action)