Former National leader Don Brash is making a bid for a political comeback as ACT party leader – if it will have him.
Dr Brash confirmed yesterday that if he was offered the ACT leadership he would take it, after previously rejecting behind-the-scenes efforts to woo him back to Parliament either as ACT leader Rodney Hide's deputy or as co-leader.
Dr Brash said he would not contemplate returning to Parliament under either of those scenarios but would if offered the leadership.
His comments throw down the gauntlet before a crucial ACT board meeting next Saturday and breathe new life into ACT's electoral prospects, which have been widely written off after a disastrous period for Mr Hide.
There is also speculation that former Auckland mayor John Banks would be keen to stand in Epsom if approached by ACT, suggesting he could be on a Brash ticket. The two men have business ties and speak regularly. Polls have shown that Mr Banks would win Epsom if he stood.
Mr Hide said on Thursday that his candidacy in Epsom was yet to be confirmed by the ACT board.
Mr Hide has refused to accept he had done anything wrong by keeping secret the conviction of his law and order spokesman David Garrett for stealing a dead baby's identity.
He was also accused of hypocrisy after taking his girlfriend – now wife – on taxpayer-funded overseas jaunts despite railing against MPs' perks when in Opposition. And leadership ructions have laid bare the deep divisions in the ACT caucus and wider party, which is believed to have shed supporters and funding in the past 12 months.
Dr Brash had a brief but successful period as National leader when he brought his party within a whisker of victory in 2005, just three years after its heaviest defeat on record. He resigned after private emails were leaked to author Nicky Hager detailing confidential meetings and conversations and suggesting an affair with businesswoman Diane Foreman.
Dr Brash confirmed yesterday that he remained a member of the National Party but said it was no secret that "I feel disappointed in the Government's performance".
"I've given two or three speeches in the last two or three months ... expressing my disappointment. I'm certainly feeling quite frustrated by the Government's performance at the moment. We've faced probably the worst international economic crisis in three generations, not one but two serious earthquakes, and we're still basically spending like we're in the middle of a great big boom."
Dr Brash is understood to have financial backing, and the support of some members of the ACT board. He is believed to have spoken to deputy leader John Boscawen, whose vote in the caucus is crucial in deciding the leadership.
Although it is not yet clear if Dr Brash would have the numbers to roll Mr Hide from outside Parliament, his leadership may represent the party's only chance of survival as most people, including National Party insiders, write off Mr Hide's prospects of holding on to the blue-ribbon Epsom seat.
Until now, Epsom has represented the minor party's best chance of making it back into Parliament, but with Dr Brash at the helm, it could get over the 5 per cent threshold by wooing disenchanted National voters who think that it is beholden to the Maori Party and too timid on economic policy.
- The Dominion Post