The Exclusive Brethren have ended their explosive return to the Kiwi spotlight as defiantly as they came, refusing to rule out campaigning at the next New Zealand election.

Having cemented their status as political poison, the sect has shrugged off criticism of its decision to hire a private investigator to paw through the lives of Prime Minister Helen Clark, her husband and several high profile Labour cabinet ministers.

While the Brethren remained close-lipped throughout the furore of last week, instead fronting their kerchief-clad women to plead they were “out of town” for the TV cameras, the sect’s reclusive male leaders still managed to have the last word.

Despite shunning most overtures to front for the press and explain themselves, the group eventually released a faxed letter to all MPs (interestingly including an email address as a contact point…) lambasting the Labour Government for their vilification of the group in the press.

The Brethren banged on about their democratic rights and reiterated what has become the sect’s tagline when confronted with evidence of their political campaigning – that it was done on behalf of individuals, not the church.

The Brethren’s leader in Auckland, Neville Simmons, one of the main players in the group’s contentious election activities, then made a late night phone call to a junior Radio New Zealand reporter (who had incidentally never given anyone in the sect his personal mobile number).

The curious conversation was peppered with paranoid threats from Simmons who claimed to be recording the chat, despite not consenting to have it taped for radio. He said National leader Don Brash’s statement that he would have nothing more to do with the party didn’t bother the Brethren as all they were after was a change in Government.

Simmons railed against the sins of Helen Clark and her party, asking the reporter if he was ashamed to be a New Zealander with all this “hullabaloo”, he then said the group had no regrets at getting involved in politics.

Meanwhile Don Brash has come out of two weeks of political hell smelling like roses. John Howard should hope he emerges from his entanglement with the Brethren as well as NZ’s bespectacled former Reserve Bank Governor.

Brash has all but confirmed having his second affair and admitted meeting with the Brethren after the last election (where his initial denial that he had met with the group has this week been blamed by some National MPs for their loss in the poll) yet National has surged to a hefty lead in the two latest opinion polls.

It seems Clark’s labelling of her counterpart as “corrosive and cancerous” only elicited sympathy for Brash in the electorate.

Peter Fray

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