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Judd Speech: The Centre-Right Can Win

Judd Speech: The Centre-Right Can Win

Catherine Judd, President, ACT New Zealand - Speech to the ACT Annual Conference; SkyCity Convention Centre, Auckland; 10.35am, Saturday 12 March 2005.

Good morning and welcome to you all.

I have titled this speech `The Centre Right Can Win', and I had thought of starting off with some inspiring lines about courage, perhaps something from Shakespeare's Henry V at Agincourt, or the story of Horatius at the Bridge.

But for images of courage and true grit I had to look no further than this: Rodney Hide, Ken Shirley and Deborah Coddington showed the stuff ACT is made of when they fronted up to the Wananga last week and faced a fierce challenge from its supporters.

Our MPs demonstrated very graphically that standing up for principles is not just about fronting up politically, about putting out press releases, or making accusations under parliamentary privilege; it's about having the courage to really front up and lay your body on the line for the truth and the facts and the things you believe in.

As Rodney said at the Wananga: "We have raised some serious concerns about governance and accountability; we see that as our job and we don't shrink from it, and we don't shrink from turning up here today."

I'm glad Rodney didn't have to lose an eye for it, but I say our leader has all the courage of Horatius, and he demonstrates that over and over again.

And I say full marks to Ken Shirley for having the guts and tenacity to get this issue up there, and to Rodney and the team for backing him to the hilt.

Thank you for attending this Conference. It's important that you're here because this is election year and we need to redouble our effort and our sense of urgency.

I am not in the least bit phased by the media's endless cheesy epitaphs for us. They've been pronouncing them at every election: dying ACT, final ACT, disappearing ACT and so on. On the contrary, I say the curtain has been rising on our ideas here and around the world for the past three decades.

Of course there is some very hard work ahead, but I'm pleased to say that in every election campaign ACT has substantially improved its position, and I believe we will do so again.

The strategy of the Labour government is fairly predictable. They will try to ignore the election as an irritating distraction from the serious hands-on business of running the country. There will be much talk of Labour governing alone and the desirability of avoiding a coalition with the Greens.

The key Labour strategy will be to preserve the majestic image of our Prime Minister. The cult of personality has moved towards deification and the skill of Labour's spin meisters is such that the perception has moved decidedly out of kilter with the facts.

I am vaguely reminded of images from my time in Soviet Russia where I spent two years in the early `70s and developed a powerful aversion to the notion of socialism and all its trappings.

One of the most enduring images of those days - as any of you who visited Moscow then would recall - was the long, grey, orderly line in Red Square: the peasants patiently queuing for a glimpse of the bodily remains of their entombed saint, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin - or Dead Fred as he was known affectionately around the diplomatic community.

Lenin's sober granite mausoleum lay between the two symbols of the Russian spirit, backed on one side by the mad, kaleidoscopic beauty of St Basil's and on the other by the towering fortress of the Kremlin.

I visited Dead Fred one day - jumping the queue by tagging along with a New Zealand VIP - and was surprised, for all the massive, terrible impact Lenin had on the lives of millions of people, and for all the wonders of annual rejuvenations by Moscow's top undertakers, at how remarkably small and unimpressive this yellowing little man in his black suit looked.

It's hard to describe the full force of the Lenin cult in Soviet Russia: the tireless indoctrination programme, the massive effort to venerate his relics, the propaganda overkill. He was an omnipresent icon and his name was the source of all legitimacy for whatever policies the Kremlin leaders wanted to pursue.

Which brings me to my point (yes, there is a point), which is that all that veneration was the Soviet regime's antidote to the waning of ideological fervour. Because behind the elaborate veneer was at best massive indifference and at worst certain knowledge that the collectivist dream was an abject failure.

It would be stretching it to suggest that the deification of Helen Clark is getting her up there with Vladimir Ilyich, but they do have some things in common. The ideologies they both stood for and other leftist regimes around the world have failed.

There are some sharp differences though, particularly that - unlike Comrade Lenin - Helen Clark has risen without a trace. What will she remembered for?

What has she achieved? How can you make even a plain granite monument to shallow, cynical, poll-driven, formulaic, busybody, stand-for-nothing, stay-in-power-at-all-costs government? How will history describe this nasty, jump-on-trouble, blame-someone-else, bossy, grim, visionless woman? It will be a short, bleak chapter.

Dead Fred, to give him credit, was at least trying to do something.

So why do the parties of the centre right seem to be so spooked by this thin Cullen Clark veneer? Why did National crumble as soon as Cullen poked a stick at their tax cut ideas?

Labour's strength is an illusion in so many ways. For a start it has a parliamentary majority of precisely one. If we add together Labour's 51 seats, Jim Anderton's Progressive Coalition's two seats and United Future's 8, then we get 61 and the government has to provide the Speaker. I had to laugh when Paul Adams was fasting to persuade God to stop the Civil Union bill. All he had to do to bring the government down was to change his vote on a key piece of legislation.

When Jenny Shipley's government was in a similar position the commentariat could talk of little else but the weakness of the National party's governing coalition.

So Labour sit on a slender majority and there has been the creation of the Maori party. In my opinion, the effect of Tariana Turia's resignation from the Labour party and her subsequent re-election in the electorate of Te Tai Hauauru as leader of the Maori Party, has been a major political phenomenon that has been seriously underestimated by political commentators. Gains by the Maori Party at the next election look certain and will occur entirely at Labour's expense.

Historically, there has been a strong tendency for the governing party to lose votes at every election. Labour escaped this fate last time largely because of the disappearance of the Alliance Party which had its parliamentary representation in parliament fall from eleven to zero. The Alliance had just fought a vicious civil war which I won't describe in detail here. Suffice it to say that we recently saw Jim Anderton jumping for joy at the news of the probable demise of his old party.

The demise of the Alliance in 2002 and the near demise of New Zealand First in 1999, suggest a new law of political science is in play. This is that the minority party in a governing coalition relationship bears the brunt of any dissatisfaction with the government. So I'm predicting some harsh punishment for United Future at the next election. I expect that the Prime Minister is also well aware of the phenomenon but doesn't talk about it very much for fear of deterring future partners. After all, the Prime Minister's decision to do a deal with United Future was, to put it mildly, a surprise. As Bill English pointed out at the last election, the United Future Party's parliamentary wing consists mainly of Christian conservatives who are the sort of people the Labour Party despises. Helen Clark's decision to govern with them is political genius or immoral opportunism, depending on your point of view.

The problem is that the Greens make no secret of their wish to govern in conjunction with Labour, and New Zealand First remains a possibility. By such means Helen Clark anticipates being in power indefinitely using up coalition partners as she goes.

That is a prospect that fills me with dread and brings back more bad memories of Breshnev's Moscow. There were so many graphic examples of what goes wrong when you extend state control and smother initiative, in particular the huge significance of privilege. For life to be bearable in Soviet Russia, to get around the endless waiting in line, the chronic shortages, the rudeness, the drabness and meaguerness of everything, you had to be part of the Soviet system of privileges and perks.

Occasionally you'd spot members of the Communist elite slipping out of a beryozhka - hard currency store - with bulging packages wrapped discreetly in brown paper concealing such luxury items as bananas and tomatoes. Or better still, for the truly politically anointed, foreign luxuries like whisky or American cigarettes, the sort of thing the proletariat never even laid eyes on.

The streets of Moscow had a special middle lane for use only by senior communists and visiting sympathetic dignitaries. Giant Zil limousines and Chaikas sped along them scattering and splattering pedestrians, and the traffic lights were automatically changed to accommodate them. Militiamen would appear from nowhere to make sure that the nomenklatura could rip through the city unimpeded.

The embassy was once visited by Frank McNulty, then head of the meat workers union, who thought it quite appropriate to be whisked along in a limo while the workers were held back by the militia.

All of this was done in the name of creating an egalitarian society. A brutal and inflexible hierarchy manipulated by venal beaurocrats justified as a revolution. And so I quite quickly came around to the conclusion that socialism didn't work in practice and was morally bankrupt to boot.

That was part of my own political journey and many others have had similar experiences. It may not seem too relevant now but I think it's worth keeping the memory alive: sometimes it's easy to forget that the right won the intellectual battle, that communism is a joke outside of our university social science departments and those who espoused hard core socialism have reinvented themselves as loveable social democrats and pretend they were never anything else. When the Berlin Wall fell it was obvious to all that society could not and should not be controlled by the commands of the select few.

However for democracies there has been a surprising consequence of the right's intellectual victory, and that is that the right is now the agent of change. This is the absolute opposite of the situation that prevailed throughout the majority of the twentieth century.

In New Zealand the Labour party was an openly socialist party dedicated to greater equality through central planning. The National party was formed to keep Labour out of office and in this it largely succeeded but at the cost of adopting socialist policies of its own. When Labour was elected it introduced a socialist programme extending the role of the state. When National was returned to power it tended to preserve the status quo. National was by inclination and temperament conservative and avoided change at all costs.

The result was a kind of political ratchet where change went to the left but never to the right. This created many ironies. The first was that the National Party became the natural party of government, as there is a tendency for people to distrust change. Under these circumstances the left became synonymous with radicalism, although I know from my own experiences in the Soviet Union that the left is not, in the end, egalitarian.

The most serious consequence of all of this was that New Zealand drifted towards a command economy and the crowning irony is that our greatest socialist folly, the "Think Big" projects, occurred under the National government. It was left to Roger Douglas and other economic realists within the Labour Party to sort things out. New Zealand had a reforming, free market government, which turned the whole political paradigm on its head.

So where does this leave ACT in 2005? We continue to propose a free market agenda and we advocate liberalism in social issues. But as change tends to come from the free market direction it is now the socialists who are the party of the status quo. The Labour party is now presenting itself as a middle of the road party and its instincts are establishment.

The Prime Minister, herself, has likened her own government to the Holyoake government. That's her analogy although I agree with it. It always works to preserve the current order. This might cause ACT members to despair, but it may also be that a free market ratchet is on in New Zealand politics. Change, when it occurs, will be from a market direction which, in turn, will be preserved by subsequent Labour governments. So things are likely to get better.

The flow of ideas is from ACT to National to Labour. Take as one example the question of a time limit on Treaty settlements. Legislation which would have done this was presented to parliament by Derek Quigley in 1997 and was voted down by 112 to 8. At the last election National embraced the idea of time limits and more recently the Labour Party has been talking about them, speaking, for all the world, as if they had had the idea themselves.

This is what we mean when we say that ACT is a party of influence. We do have influence, and to continue to do so we need to have power within parliament. The more MPs we have the more influence we will have.

One problem we have is that the National Party has not become used to the new paradigm and still consider themselves to be the natural party of government.

National has from time to time been a party that stood for principles.

In 1974 Jack Marshall, said these included, among other things, "freedom and independence of the individual" and "economic freedom". Would he recognise the National party today? I doubt it.

National has moved a long way from its original values. In recent years the party has been all too willing to jettison or dilute their principles in exchange for voter appeal.

It's a long and telling list. Let's just take a look at some of the ways National has compromised its free enterprise and individual freedom roots in recent years.

They owe an apology to their supporters who thought they were voting for a party which supported freedom and opposed socialism. Maybe they think that looking like Labour's Mini Me will make the voters want them. Or maybe they were just trying to be lovable.

I think they should say sorry. But sometimes sorry seems to be hardest word.

Take it away Ray.


In Government

1. Commitment to a referendum on MMP, and subsequent failure to set more than a 50% threshold

2. Commitment on ANZUS

3. Broken promises on the superannuation surcharge and tertiary fees

4. The Resource Management Act

5. Slow-down of tariff reductions post-1992

6. Failure to use the 1991 Galvin report to open up ACC to competition

7. Failure to abolish the Employment Court and the major extension of the personal grievance regime

8. Poorly conceived and implemented health reforms

9. The Treaty of Waitangi industry

10. Business law initiatives which increased business costs eg Human Rights Act, Privacy Act, Takeovers Act

11. Attempts to scrap appeals to the Privy Council

12. Introduction of a youth minimum wage

13. Poor control of government spending, especially in coalition period

14. The Bradford electricity reforms

15. Interminable gradualism on bulk funding

16. The NCEA disaster

17. Politically correct school curricula

18. The reintroduction of zoning and compulsory teacher registration

19. Pay parity for primary and secondary teachers

20. Two rounds of tax cuts that focused on redistribution rather than growth

21. The 1998 ad hoc cut to New Zealand Superannuation benefits

22. Failure to implement planned reforms to roading

23. Passing the review of the water industry to local government, thus effectively ending it

24. Unwillingness until the very end to implement producer board reform

25. The general abandonment of privatisation post-1993

In Opposition

26. Weak tax policy

27. Abandonment of review of nuclear ships ban

28. Reversal of opposition to the Cullen Fun

29. Reversal of opposition to four weeks holiday pay

30. Decision to retain state ownership of Kiwibank and TVNZ

It is indeed a sad, sad situation.

But let's not get depressed about it. We've tried very hard to get along and be a helpful, supportive partner. But the constant rejections and slaps in the face have taken their toll. We have been feeling a bit like a battered spouse.

The National spokesman for bashing ACT has been charged with throwing us down the electoral staircase. We're not too worried about that though. Let's face it, Gerry is not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.

Anyway, we knew it was time - in the interests of our own self esteem - to get out.

It's been quite a liberating experience - it's what a classical liberal party needs to do - to make our case in our own right. We're a free market party and we're prepared to take our chances in the market.

We don't see this as a deep or permanent rift, more of a trial separation that will lead, we hope, to a more honest and realistic relationship.

The main thing the parties of the centre right need to do is to be forward-looking. From a political point of view National needs to figure out MMP. After all, they gave us the referendum but they have never accepted the legitimacy of the system. Under MMP you can't appeal right across the spectrum - you have to pick your niche and stick to it. National's job is to win votes from Labour and be the centre party. Our job is to push the `centre' in a positive direction.

As for ACT, we're quite clear about what we stand for and our challenge will be to raise more money, use smarter techniques and run the best campaign ever to sell our ideas.

In its early days ACT might have been too `product oriented', arguing for its own ideas and policies on the assumption that voters would realise they're the best ones and would vote for us.

In this campaign we will be `sales oriented'. That means believing in our own ideas and policies but recognising that they must be `sold' to the public.

But a word of realism. Research carried out this year by UMR Research

shows an average of 56% thought the country was headed in the right

direction last year, and only 8% felt the economy was the most important problem facing the country.

It's a salutary reminder of the nature of peoples' belief systems and the way these influence voting behaviour.

Only around ten percent of people have a political belief system - a set of opinions which add up to a coherent political philosophy.

Just over 40 percent of voters vote on the basis of perceived self-interest.

Around 25 percent vote from their sense of whether times are good or bad.

Around 22 percent vote on an irrelevant issue like the weather.

We'll be asking a lot of our members this election. We'll be asking you to go above and beyond the call of duty. We'll be looking for a leap of faith, much like that required of our former campaign manager in a recent mayoralty campaign. It's like the story of the supply clerk from the 82^nd airborne who did a parachute jump even though he'd never been trained.

The Army said I was airborne-qualified, and I wasn't going to question their decision," Jeff Lewis told reporters from his hospital bed in Fort Bragg. "I had a job to do, and I had to believe in what I was doing, so I sewed airborne wings onto my uniform, took my parachute, and jumped.

Due to an administrative error, Lewis (a supply clerk) received orders to make a parachute jump, despite having received no training.

"A good soldier doesn't question, he just follows orders. The Army doesn't like complainers, so I decided to go with the flow. Apparently, my records show that I completed the airborne school parachuting course at Fort Benning, but the only course I ever took there was filing.

I was a little nervous when the moment came to jump, but I just followed everyone else. I stepped out of the aircraft with the wrong foot, and my equipment got twisted up, which was kind of worrying.

I eventually managed to get my canopy open, but I didn't know how to land, and I broke both arms, an ankle, dislocated my right shoulder, fractured my elbow and skull, and am still suffering from mild concussion.

When the platoon sergeant came to visit me here in hospital, I decided to explain the situation to him, but I didn't complain. No Sir."

Now that's the kind of dedication we are asking from our members.

I want to remind you too of the importance of staying on the bright side.

We need to remember how far we've come, how very much better New Zealand has got since the drab old days before 1984.

Compare the days of dead weekends, no Saturday trading, rude shop assistants, car-less days, permits for foreign currency, to what we have today: a wealth of good restaurants, theatre, a stunning array of consumer goods - things that would've made Vladimir Ilyich roll over in his mausoleum.

As Matthew Parris said in The Spectator last year, we should be glorying in the fact that the right has won the argument.

We should be in swashbuckling mood. We should be able to laugh at ourselves and each other. Not everything goes our way, of course, but much does. What we like about our country today we should be able to praise, even boast about. What we dislike we should be able to question, mock or the cheery and confident tones of the big man who is part of modernity, part of the winning side of the argument.

He goes on to describe how supporters of individual freedom should conduct themselves in the political marketplace:

The Right should be able to grin. The Right should be generous and funny. The Right should sound like a winner. The Right should feel interested in the world, on the world's side, infused by the spirit that is in our world...our countrymen, not `theirs'. The Right should be lovable.

I think there's something there for us.

If we're to reach out to non-political voters we need to do so in ways that demonstrate we are outward-looking, confident, and positive - ways that demonstrate we're winners.

ACT intends to fight a tough campaign and a winning campaign.

As Arnold Schwarzennegger would have said had he been able to join us today: "We'll be back!"

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