National suspected of scuttling Ansell's Colourblind campaign launch
"A half-hearted [Rotary] admission that there was a misunderstanding is a very poor show and goes nowhere near the apology Mr Ansell is due."Featured comment
Ad man John Ansell suspects forces within the National party scuttled the launch of his Colourblind New Zealand campaign this week.
The Remuera Rotary club pulled the plug on hosting the event at the last minute, claiming it had been ambushed into providing a platform for a political campaign.
Its sudden about-turn perplexed Mr Ansell, who has since produced a raft of emails between him and the club indicating its apparent enthusiasm for the event.
Now he believes someone leaned on the club, and that “someone” was probably the National party, which is keen not to rock the boat on its cosy relationship with the Maori party.
“One well-known commentator told me I had got too close to the heart of the beast – in other words to the heart of the National party,” Mr Ansell told NBR ONLINE.
“I half expected that somebody would do something like this, but I thought they would operate with more integrity.
“If they’d called me and said 'sorry mate, with the best will in the world we’ve realised we’ve made a mistake, we’re going to have to call the meeting off', that would have been fine by me.
“But to go straight to the press at the last moment and say they have been ambushed is just not on and something that I just can’t let lie, especially as they asked me to invite as many people as possible to the function.”
Mr Ansell says he invited a number of National party people to his address and “it’s quite possible they did run scared and I think I’m going to strike this more and more”.
About-face a bitter blow
The Rotary club about-face was a bitter blow for Mr Ansell, who was already on his way to Auckland from his home in Wellington when he got the news.
But all was not lost because Maori TV came to his rescue and invited him to appear on Native Affairs on the night he was due to give his speech.
“I got treated badly by the Remuera Rotary club but brilliantly by Maori TV, where every single one of them was really nice to me so I did get a chance to get my message across.”
For its part, the Remuera Rotary club rejects any suggestion that it was leaned on by anyone to cancel Mr Ansell’s address.
Club president John Burrowes says his members were “very much looking forward to hearing his point of view” and it was only when a story about the event appeared in NBR ONLINE a few days beforehand that the club had second thoughts.
The story made it clear that Mr Ansell intended to talk about the possibility of forming a political party, something which Mr Burrowes says the club was unaware of – despite details being on Mr Ansell's website.
In a phone call to NBR ONLINE, irate Rotary club spin doctor Felicity Anderson claimed the story was wrong and demanded it be removed from NBR's website. The story was not wrong and it was not removed.
“We knew we had a controversial speaker but I was personally keen to listen to him and hear what his point of view was," Mr Burrowes says.
“But then it shifted to becoming a launch and he was, in effect, converting the occasion from a private meeting to a public meeting by inviting his supporters.
“There may well have been some misunderstanding between us over this but I can say quite categorically that there was no external pressure on us to cancel the occasion.
“We can’t be seen to endorse the launch of a political party.”
Mr Ansell finds the club’s position especially hard to understand given that politicians are regularly invited to address Rotary clubs around the country, sometimes on equally “sensitive” issues.
Highly controversial speech
In 2004 then National party leader Don Brash delivered a highly controversial speech on race relations to the Orewa Rotary club, calling for one rule for all races in New Zealand.
It resulted in a major surge for the party, which had been languishing in the polls.
Despite criticism from some quarters that he was “playing the race card”, the polls indicated that many Maori were comfortable with his speech.
And then in 2005 Dr Brash returned to the Orewa Rotary club to give another speech, this time on another highly sensitive topic – welfare dependency.
All of which fuels Mr Ansell’s suspicion that political skullduggery lay behind the canning of his appearance in Remuera.
But Mr Burrowes says Dr Brash’s appearances at Orewa are not evidence that his club applied a double standard to Mr Ansell.
“Dr Brash was an established politician invited by the Orewa club to a private function at which he made a state-of-the-nation address.
“This was a tradition that was established by Rob Muldoon many years earlier.”
Despite the Remuera rebuff, Mr Ansell is refusing to let it get him down and is pressing on with public meetings in the Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay to whip up support for a single issue party to campaign for a colourblind New Zealand at the next election.
He has also been sounding out commentators on the right and left of the political spectrum to see whether he is going down the best track.
“Sir Bob Jones told me a single issue party will fly as long as John Key remains cowardly.
“He says that unless Key shows some backbone like Helen Clark did then a single issue party will work.”
Mr Ansell says left-wing political commentator Chris Trotter “started to talk in big numbers about the support such a party could get”.
“But he says it will need to be broad spectrum of the right and the left.
“He seems to back much of what I’m saying as he believes a lot of people on the left support the idea of a colourblind state.”
In the meantime, Mr Burrowes says the door is still ajar for Mr Ansell to return to the Remuera Rotary club – but not for a campaign launch.
“I would personally love to have him back as a guest speaker and hear what he’s all about but it would have to be a private meeting as opposed to a public meeting and it would be people that Rotary invited as opposed to his invitees or the public at large.”