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Jim Peron: Many Miss The Real Brash Revolution

Many Miss The Real Significance Of The Brash Revolution

by Jim Peron
Institute for Liberal Values

It appears that a lot of political analysts just don't get the Don Brash revolution.

Part of the problem is that many people still think with the old Left/Right dichotomy. It was a structure that never really did fit political reality that well.

Since many of the commentators see themselves as being of the Left anyone who isn't in agreement with them is obviously on the Right.

That covers a lot of territory including groups that often totally disagree with one another.

A "Right-winger" could be a free trade advocate or a rabid protectionist. He could support the Prostitution Reform Bill like Rodney Hide or be fanatically opposed like the Maxim Institute.

The term itself is meaningless. To call someone a Right-winger tells you nothing about that person or his beliefs.

So it is with Don Brash. Simplistic labels are applied with rigor. But the labels don't fit well. Brash is an economist. He understands what makes the economy work and what doesn't. He supports free markets. To most people, spoon fed simplistic versions of politics, this means that Brash is a Right-winger. He's just another conservative.

But is he? He voted in favour of the Prostitution Reform Bill while conservatives vehemently opposed it. Brash supported the right-to-die legislation that narrowly failed passing and said he's inclined to support the Civil Unions legislation for gay couples.

But he's supposed to be Right-wing! Just like George Bush who'd oppose each measure and is in fact leading the anti-gay crusade in the United States.

The Right-Left dichotomy doesn't fit. That's why some analysts have abandoned the old two dimensional dichotomy and look at measures of economic and social freedom. One can be pro-markets and pro social freedom, oppose both, or support one and not the other.

While slightly more complex it does more accurately portray political reality. Instead of two positions we get four. The authoritarian position supports state control economically and socially. The "progressive" or "socialist" wants economic control but favours social freedom. The "conservative" tends to support freedom economically but thinks the state must use force to keep people moral in their private affairs. The final position, which more closely fits Don Brash, is the classical liberal or libertarian position.

Most people, including most politicians, are not consistent advocates of any one viewpoint. But these broad categories do work relatively well. Brash is not always an advocate of keeping the state limited to it's functions of protecting life, liberty and property. He does support laws banning recreational drugs. But he's more often in the liberal quandrant than not.

I suspect that many analysts actually understand that Brash is more libertarian than conservative. But they often have their own ideological baggage and it suits their purposes to lump their opponents into one big grouping. They know that associating Don Brash with groups like Maxim will be detrimental to Brash. It may not be completely accurate but it is useful.

The magnitude of the Brash revolution is thus diminished. When National changed leaders they didn't get a different version of the same thing. Bill English was a conservative. Don Brash is not.

That's what's been causing problems for Act at the polls. But even with Act there is a strong conservative element exemplified best by Stephan Franks. The liberal wing, lead by Rodney Hide, has a voting record on social issues remarkably similar to that of Brash.

From what I've seen of Act it's members are split evenly between conservatives and liberals just as it's parliamentary caucus is even divided. The party itself has been the most libertarian of those holding seats in parliament and Brash is stealing their thunder.

But Brash is a liberal leading a conservative party. If Rodney Hide becomes new Act party leader he'd be leading a party that has a substantial membership that shares his ideology.

Assuming that National becomes the next government they'd want an ally. The question is who would that be? If Act the coalition, along with Brash's own inclinations, would probably mean that gains in social freedom will not be reversed and some more progress is possible.

But if Brash is forced to seek an ally in Winston Peters that, coupled with the conservative elements in his own party, would make it unlikely we'll see any advancement in social freedom. Neither would we see the Maxim's social agenda implemented. It's most likely to be a stand-off.

Civil libertarians, wanting to protect the gains they've had and facing a National government, might find themselves wanting a good showing for Act. Act likes to say that they keep National honest. But their presence also allows National to rule without resorting to alliances with individuals not inclined to support civil liberties.

The quandry for liberal voters is that many have already indicated they'll vote National on account of Brash instead of supporting Act. But in voting to have a liberal as the next Prime Minister they may end up with a government that is less liberal than it otherwise would be if their votes mean Act loses it's place in parliament.


- Jim Peron is the executive director of the Institute for Liberal Value and editor of the book The Liberal Tide: From Tyranny to Liberty.


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