The secret Christian sect behind an anti-Labour smear campaign threatens to derail National’s election hopes, a political expert says.
The acting head of Massey University’s School of Philosophy, History and Politics, Dr James Watson, said yesterday the campaign by the Exclusive Brethren would not help National seize power in next week’s general election.
The Exclusive Brethren has been unmasked as the organisers of pamphlets claiming New Zealand has undergone a moral decline under Labour and have offered their services to National MPs and candidates across the country.
Both Whanganui National candidate Chester Borrows and National Rangitikei MP Simon Power have been approached by church members.
“I certainly don’t think it will help them. New Zealanders are generally not keen on religious extremes,” Dr Watson said.
The Brethren were seen as quite exclusive and some extreme views associated with the group was not a good thing for National.
“I would be extremely surprised if they had encouraged [the contact]. I think it’s more likely Don Brash has been a bit nai”ve and not recognised this could be a political liability and not distanced himself,” he said.
National Party president Judy Kirk denied the Brethren affair had damaged National.
“It’s a distraction. We want to be talking about tax cuts and one citizenship, things New Zealanders care about,” Mrs Kirk said.
“We want to talk about policy…I think it’s a sideshow, a beat up really.”
Dr Brash had repeatedly denied National knew anything about the Brethren campaign which has cost about $500,000.
But Dr Brash, who walked away from reporters when questioned about the pamphlets, has been forced to admit he met with church members for a “prayer” meeting and has conceded he knew the Exclusive Brethren were planning to attack Labour via pamphlets – a day after deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said the party knew nothing of the plan.
“I think yesterday when he didn’t answer the question alarm bells started to ring and he realised he’d tripped up and should get some advice.
“One of the features of this extended campaign is that Don Brash has been caught unawares by some things, which makes it evident that he isn’t a career politician,” Dr Watson said.
Mrs Kirk said the conflicting statements by Dr Brash and Mr Brownlee didn’t indicate they were at odds with each other.
Mr Borrows has met with Exclusive Brethren members but told the Chronicle he got support for his campaign from a wide section of the community.
“I don’t ask them what religion they belong to,” he said. He wasn’t happy with the escalating controversy surrounding claims church members have backed smear campaign directed at Labour and the Greens.
Mr Borrows wouldn’t comment further about the nature of the meetings but did say he hadn’t received money from the church.
He asked what the news value was in the Brethren were supporting National, given the unions had long supported Labour.
“I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything. Labour is a big supporter of free speech but just because these people disagree with what they’re saying they get labelled strange and weird and quite honestly scrutinised.”
When asked about the nature of the campaign – and the fact Exclusive Brethren members don’t vote – Mr Borrows said that was their right.
The anti-government pamphlet dropped in Wanganui last weekend listing taxes and levies was not the work of the church, he said.
“I didn’t have any involvement in it but I know the individuals and they weren’t Brethren.”
Mr Borrows said Labour supporters had been running a smear campaign against him for weeks, via letters to newspapers. Members of the Exclusive Brethren approached Rangitikei MP Simon Power to offer campaign support, but he “politely declined” their assistance.
He wouldn’t comment about any other details of support church members had in mind as they weren’t discussed because the offer was turned down quickly.
Whanganui MP Jill Pettis said she didn’t think Mr Borrows’ statement he had nothing to do with the leaflet drop was plausible.
The leaflet breached the Electoral Act because it didn’t state who it was authorised by and amounted to distributing “falsehoods”.
“It’s illegal behaviour…but we’re not going to lodge a complaint,” Mrs Pettis said.
Earlier this week, the Chronicle reported the level of dirty tactics from across the political spectrum- during this year’s campaign was unprecedented.
Dr Brash is due in Wanganui today.