Don Brash bares all

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2014
Don Brash
DAVID WHITE/FILE PHOTO

ON REFLECTION: Don Brash stood down as National leader after allegations swirled about an affair with businesswoman Diane Foreman, inset, though he does not refer to her in his autobiography.

Don Brash
TROUBLED LIFE: Don Brash catapulted National from a historic drubbing in 2002 to coming nail-bitingly close to an unlikely victory just three years later.

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Former National leader Don Brash contemplated suicide after his private and public lives fell apart.

In his autobiography Incredible Luck published today, Brash reveals the toll on his marriage after he entered public life, and also lifts the lid on some long-standing secrets.

Among them is that he never intended serving out a full term as prime minister had he won in 2005 - and that he and John Key hatched a plan in a Blenheim motel room for Brash to hand over the reins to Key before the 2008 election.

Nowadays, Key doesn't return his calls, and Brash strongly suspects National plotted with Epsom MP John Banks to manoeuvre him out of the ACT leadership. He even questions whether that may have been the real reason for Key's determination to keep secret the so-called teapot tapes recording a conversation between him and Banks without their knowledge.

"Whatever was said on that occasion, I have reason to believe that John Key's willingness to signal to National voters in Epsom that it would be okay to vote for John Banks with their electorate vote was linked to an understanding that, if elected, I would not continue as leader of ACT."

Brash also talks about Key's haste to get him out the door once he stepped down from the leadership - he believes due, only in part, to National wanting to distance itself from his legacy.

"There was also at the time a huge focus on the Nicky Hager book published in November 2006, a book which argued strongly that the National Party in general and I in particular were beholden to sinister influences - Big Business, the Exclusive Brethren and American neo-cons - and the quickest way of getting that story out of the headlines was to have me out of sight.

"That was particularly the case given that John himself was also implicated to some extent, particularly in the allegation that he and I had both received an email from the Exclusive Brethren offering substantial financial support in the 2005 election campaign."

But Brash says he does not feel betrayed by Key, even though he is now considered "persona non-grata" by the National hierarchy and he was effectively shown the door by Key when he took over the leadership in 2006.

"John was clearly keen to have me out of the caucus as soon as possible, something he made abundantly clear both by what he offered me if I stayed . . . and by what he offered me if I went quietly."

The go-quietly option Key offered him was a plum diplomatic posting in either Washington or London. But when National later became government Brash was told Washington was not available, though he could have London. He turned it down.

A former Reserve Bank governor, Brash was an unlikely leader but catapulted National from an historic drubbing in 2002 to coming nail-bitingly close to an unlikely victory just three years later after touching a chord on race relations and soaring in popularity.

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But his troubled personal life, including a rumoured affair with businesswoman Diane Foreman, split the caucus and he became embroiled in controversy over his links to the Exclusive Brethren.

The book skirts around the affair and does not mention Foreman - though Brash admits the breakup of his marriage to Je Lan was "the worst mistake of my life". Je Lan was his second wife.

"The end of both my marriages was hugely painful, in both cases to the point of contemplating suicide to end the pain."

Brash also lists as one of his regrets his failure to speak out during caucus discussions on America's invasion of Iraq - an issue on which he now believes former prime minister Helen Clark took the right stand.

He reveals just one National MP, Maurice Williamson, spoke out passionately in opposition, while the rest, including Key and many of his current front bench, backed the US.

Speaking ahead of the release of his book, Brash said he later wished he had backed Williamson. "I didn't say a word and I've regretted it ever since . . . I quote it as an example of how in politics one sometimes shut down views in the interest of not rocking the boat."

BRASH SNIPPETS

On himself and John Key: "We discussed the leadership on several occasions, most memorably when we shared a two-bedroom motel unit in Blenheim in December 2004. We were both of the view that he was my logical successor. The plan was for me to lead the National Party to victory in the 2005 election, for me to be prime minister and him to be minister of finance, and then for me to hand over the reins to him during the 2005-2008 parliamentary term."

On his autobiography: "What prompted me to write this book was not disappointment and certainly not anger. Rather, it was a growing awareness of how incredibly lucky I have been and continue to be."

On the women in his life: "There have been other women who have been supportive - between my two marriages, since Je Lan and I separated at the end of 2007, and yes, even while I was married. All helped me to varying degrees, in one case to understand at a profound level what drives men to seek female companionship. I realise some men are gay - I have never suspected, even for a single moment, that I might be gay."

On his infamous meeting with US senators when Brash allegedly said if left to him New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy would be "gone by lunchtime" if National won office: "Lockwood [Smith] is sure I made the comment. The US Embassy [according to a cable released in the Wikileaks saga] claims I did not make the comment. I may well have done. I simply don't remember."

On Murray McCully: "After I entered Parliament he became a close confidant. These days he doesn't return my phone calls."

On life after politics: "I don't have any hobbies. No fishing, no bowls, no hunting, not even golf. And I don't have a huge circle of friends."

- The Dominion Post

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