Monday, April 30, 2007

POLITICS: Helen Clark's Brethren?

Last week Wednesday's Crikey posed the question about how private is a private conversation with the PM. Certainly any discussions the PM or his Ministers has with the Exclusive Brethren are very private, even if they possibly involve concessions on industrial relations matters or teaching computing in Brethren schools.

Over here in Kiwistan, the Brethren are regarded as a serious political liability. Last year, former National Party leader Don Brash was dethroned over the issue.

The town from where I type these words is regarded as a Brethren stronghold. Recent reports show that, during a meeting in 2004 in this very place, PM Helen Clark met with the Brethren. Clark denies the claims, but the Brethren say they have minutes of the meeting.

In fact, not just Helen but at least five other senior MP’s (including Ministers David Parker, Rick Barker, Annette King, Pete Hodgson and David Benson-Pope of the Clark government also allegedly met with the Brethren in the lead-up to the last election.

Clark claims she never had a dedicated meeting with members of the shadowy sect,. Instead, she was at a gathering where a group of businessmen (who happened to be from the Brethren) gathered around her to have a chat.

That might be the case. But what if it is found that her ministerial colleagues’ meetings with the Brethren were less spontaneous? What credibility would Helen Clark’s more recent attacks on the Brethren’s political involvements then have? Certainly the Nats would have reason to cry foul.

The Brethren are the cause for many a furious debate, with some apparent supporters wondering why Clark ’s government refuses to show as much respect to the sect as she does to the trade union movement.

Will Aunty Helen survive this latest controversy to dog her government? Watch this space …

Submitted to Crikey from an internet cafe in Greymouth, New Zealand, on Thursday 26 April 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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