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Gordon Campbell on Act's latest round of leadership ructions

Gordon Campbell on the latest round of leadership ructions in the Act Party

Call me old fashioned, but the recent versions of the Act Party almost make you feel nostalgic for the days of its youth. Back in the 1990s, Act were happy to be seen as a bunch of Randian enthusiasts brimful of certainty that once New Zealand heard The Message, the public would willingly entrust Act’s enlightened ones with the job of saving the country from its state of benighted economic ignorance. Oh, happier days. True, Act never did have much faith in democracy. (Left to their own devices the public will always do the Wrong Thing.) Back then though, Act used to be a real political party - with ideals, a clear policy agenda and a definite sense of mission. All different now. These days, it is full of cold-eyed political careerists. Winning public office on merit, by putting Act’s policies up against all comers in a democratic contest on a level playing field yada yada ? What - are you completely out of your mind ?

And so it has come to pass that someone called Jamie Whyte - over the Christmas break he was being touted as Act’s latest saviour - told RNZ this morning that unless Act gets re-elected, the dreaded Labour/Green cabal will come to power at this year’s election. When even your esrtwhile saviour can’t think of how to get elected on any other grounds than preventing the dreaded alternative from eventuating, its a sad day in Randville. Oh, and in the same RNZ report, Act’s Epsom candidacy and/or the party leadership seemed to be going either as a twofer or on a buy one now and put the other on lay-by basis. Reportedly, an offer of some sort might be being made to Matthew Hooton. Again, not exactly on merit but in order to forestall another dastardly alternative, which might see Hooton launching his own political party and quel horreur, splitting the right wing vote in Epsom. Expedience again, from a party that used to pride itself - however deludedly - on its ideals and principles. And not merely as a branding exercise, either.

Desperate times do call for desperate measures. It all comes back to National and its need for coalition “partners” that it can contort into shapes able to fit the letter - if not the spirit - of the current rules of parliamentary representation, sufficient to enable the Key government to cling to power. Quite some time ago, Act signalled its willingness to be National’s sock puppet to achieve that end. No doubt, a similar deal will be carried out to enable Colin Craig‘s Conservatives to serve the same purpose. It should be clear by now that these entities are not genuine political parties but flags of convenience for National.

To be fair though, keeping National in power is not the only purpose of Act and the Conservatives. Yes, they do serve that role. They’re also useful however as laundering operations for a policy agenda that National dare not call its own, lest that endanger its image of moderation. Unlike Labour, National chooses to contract out its extremism. By doing so, it got charter schools up and running via Act, and if re-elected, it will get a virtual flat tax policy on the rails via the Conservatives, without ever having to own those policies itself. Instead, it habitually uses the coalition talks to spring them on the public, and thereby get its wishlist into place through the back door. This is in marked contrast to the modus operandi of Labour, which has always acted like a control freak towards its erstwhile coalition partners. Rather than use the Greens to get left wing policies in through the back door, the Clark government was always more inclined to lock the back door and pocket the keys.

Will a deal be done with Act in Epsom ? Hard to see how Act’s pitiful support levels nationwide would deliver much more for National than having its own candidate ( Rodney Hide perhaps, reborn in blue ?) win the seat. Otherwise a deal with Act seems likely to achieve little more than tainting the deal that National really wants to make, with the Conservatives. Think about it, though. Would you want to fly on a plane where the Conserrvatives were one wing, and the Act Party was the other wing ? You’d have to hope that such an aircraft never got off the ground.


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