Hard News by Russell Brown

Poor show

Well, that got the pledge card out of the headlines for a day. But for all the mighty fulminating about Labour dirty tricks, the fact is that Don Brash was done in by one or more of his own colleagues. Who leaked Tuesday's caucus proceedings to the press, and why did they do it?

I've known that Brash was having an affair with Diane Foreman, vice-chair of the Business Roundtable, for about a year, although I had no recent knowledge of the state of that affair and didn't really want to know. I wasn't the only one, and, indeed, at the time a couple of readers urged me to publish that information.

I didn't, of course, but it didn't make me think well of Brash, especially when he or his colleagues thumped their tubs on the sanctity of marriage, family values or personal integrity. I'm relaxed about most things that consenting adults do, but I value commitment in relationships very highly.

But I think the political dimension of this relationship speaks of shocking judgement on Brash's part. The Business Roundtable is a key supporter and stakeholder for the National Party, and we know that Foreman (through her role in the "no Brash, no cash" edict that helped Brash take the leadership) is a key liaison with the business community. If it emerged that Helen Clark had been secretly porking, say, Ross Wilson, or a major Labour donor, that would be a poor show too.

There's also a lesson here about keeping your personal messy business away from the work email. The implication of recent reports is that Winston Peters' Brash email trove - leaked, stolen, whatever - contains "personal" communications related to the affair. If this is true, it's not only silly to use a taxpayer-funded email system for your clandestine personal affairs, it's very unprofessional.

Perhaps it's time now for both sides to pull back. Both Trevor Mallard and David Benson Pope have slyly baited Brash in Parliament about this in the past couple of weeks - although they could hardly have anticipated the way it would blow up in his own caucus. Helen Clark may or may not have been sincere when she subsequently expressed the Mallardian wish for a taser to keep her minister in line.

But I wasn't terribly impressed with National's Judith Collins tearfully accusing Mallard and Benson Pope of dragging Parliament into the gutter on Morning Report today. It was Collins, you may recall, who smirkingly implied that Benson Pope was a "pervert" in the House, probably beginning the current descent.

Where I do agree with Collins is that I feel very sorry for Brash's wife and other innocent bystanders. But a lot less so for Brash himself. Or Foreman, who, in her Roundtable role, lectured the rest of us on traditional family values. Although she wouldn't be the first from the business community to say one thing to the masses and do another. There may well be grubby little stories about other members of Parliament - the scent of power and separation from home can contrive to make people do the wrong thing - but I don't particularly want to hear about it.

Still, there's a bright side. Matthew Hooton's hilariously wrong again.

Speaking of the pledge card and spending issues, No Right Turn has hosted some useful discussion on the issue, including on an analogy for Labour's defence; a nakedly campaigning National Party brochure paid for from the same fund as the pledge card; and Peter Dunne's insistence that his party - in the auditor- general's sights along with Labour - acted in good faith and had all its expenditure approved by Parliamentary Services. A couple of conversations I've had have given me the strong impression that the Labour leadership fervently believes its case: indeed, why else take such a politically unpopular stance? The trouble is that it's like arguing with the referee. It never really works out.

To clear the decks for frivolity tomorrow - rock 'n' roll and the Chumby, I reckon - some reader feedback …

Warwick Eade has an interesting theory:

This US administration has made terror an institution in our society and in this has given rise to a whole new group around that institution - the terror fantasists.

The British bombers of 7/7 read more like obsessive fanatics rather than career terrorists. They look much closer to Columbine than Bader-Meinhof as do the "cells" discovered in the US.

Before this hugely misguided and compromised response to 9/11 they would have been regarded as disaffected or just plain nutters. But these days any frustrated/disaffected westerner has a good chance of officially becoming part of part of the huge secret international terror network by simply writing a journal about being part of the huge secret internal terror network.

Several readers took issue with the term "Islamic fascists", generally citing more technical definitions of the term "fascist". But one of the definitions in the Concise Oxford is: "system of extreme right-wing or authoritarian views," which is close enough to me. Another reader emailed to shout a bunch of tired clichés: "Islamic is a death cult," and "If we're not careful it will be coming for us too. Then there'll be 3 choices - convert, die or pay tax to our muslim masters."

Whatever. A recent Pew Global Attitudes Report makes good homework reading here: among other things, it finds that British Muslims fret about the rise of Islamic extremism in roughly the same proportion (ie: about three quarters) as the overall British population.

Muslims in European countries who perceived a struggled between moderate and fundamentalist overwhelmingly side with moderates. They generally identify with faith before nationality, which, as another Pew survey shows, makes them a bit like Christians in America. This doesn't surprise me: if you do actually believe, then you're believing in something that by definition trumps the mere business of nations.

And, finally, on the issue of 9/11 conspiracies. One reader pointed out - correctly, I think - that the Bush administration's unprecedented fetish for secrecy has helped foster the theorising ("Five years after 11 September 2001, journalists still cannot get the flight manifests of the doomed flights."). The short-selling of American airline stocks in the days before the attacks is a matter of record and may well have been the consequence of a terror tip somewhere in the global financial system.

But the most popular conspiracy theories - Bomber has helpfully listed 101 Questions about 9/11 - are much clunkier than that. Popular Mechanics addressed a lot of it with 9/11: Debunking The Myths and noted more recently that the conspiracies keep coming. The blog Screw Loose Change is also worth reading.

I guess the least implausible theory - one that doesn't require secret missiles and covert explosives - is that someone in the US security apparatus knew the attack was coming, saw it as a fulcrum for the Iraq project, and thus did not prevent it.

But that still requires a watertight degree of secrecy that has not been demonstrated in the Bush administration's subsequent adventures. I prefer to believe in something that the administration has amply demonstrated in recent years: its utter fecklessness.