Brash may have sounded death knell

Don Brash's old National Party minders would have winced when they heard the ACT leader muse aloud about decriminalising cannabis.

Back when Dr Brash still led the National Party, those minders looked increasingly haunted as they tried to manage a man whose political unworldliness was both his greatest asset and, as the list of gaffes piled up, his biggest liability.

He might see his statement at the weekend on cannabis decriminalisation as a stake in the law-and-order ground – a reminder that ACT under his leadership remains true to its liberal roots on an issue of individual liberty.

But it runs counter to everything the party must do to survive this election and rebuild by hoovering up conservative Right-wing voters who might be disaffected with National not taking a hard enough line over race issues, the economy and law and order.

Unsurprisingly, Dr Brash has found himself isolated within the wider ACT party.

Prime Minister John Key's bemused shrug said it all yesterday – having thrown ACT a lifeline in Epsom, National has made sure its minor party ally will survive, but in what shape?

Dr Brash's leadership has failed to deliver the rise in support he promised; the party's top three list placings are now in turmoil after the shock news at the weekend of the retirement of sitting MP John Boscawen, and the party's future now rests entirely on a former National government minister, John Banks – who remains far more wedded to core National Party philosophy than ACT's – National voters, and a nod from National in Epsom.

Dr Brash's leadership was supposed to haul the party back from the brink. Instead it looks increasingly like a party in its death throes.

The Dominion Post