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Solo-NZ Op-Ed: Roger's Reappearing Act

Solo-NZ Op-Ed: Roger's Reappearing Act

Lindsay Perigo
March 1, 2008

A little-noted item on TV3's news the other night informed us that Rodney Hide had written a letter to Roger Douglas pleading with him to become active for Act again. Roger had agreed. We might even see him among Act's list candidates at the forthcoming election.

This was a good move by Rodney. Just a few weeks earlier he had been telling party intimates that he was going to run a "soft" campaign, playing down even such obscenities as the Electoral Finance Act. This, he thought, was the way to retain his seat of Epsom and thus save his party from the parliamentary oblivion to which it would otherwise be consigned if it continued to poll at 1%. Why frighten the horses with conviction politics? Why threaten to slash government expenditure when you can promise merely to "hold" it? Why threaten to exterminate Nanny State when you don't even have to mention her? If John Key can soar in the polls standing for Sweet Fanny Adams, why can't Rodney Hide?

Now, Sir Roger Douglas is no Nanny-exterminator, but he is a conviction politician, so I assume and hope this means an end to "softness." The day after the TV3 item, there was Roger on the phone with one of those recorded thingies, inviting us to attend a speech he's about to deliver, in his reincarnated capacity, on how NZ can beat Australia—and he didn't mean the cricket. I'll be surprised if it's a "soft" speech.

When the Rogernomics juggernaut was carrying all before it ... well, that was a glorious time to be alive. Roger railroaded so much through that was previously unthinkable simply by not giving his opponents time to draw breath. "Give them so many moving targets they won't know which one to shoot at," was the way he put it. He gave and he took, halving the income tax but bringing in GST. He abolished farm subsidies, floated the dollar, removed wage, price and interest rate controls, put a rocket under public enterprises and the public service. It was electric. A great time to be alive, yes ... and a great time to be a TV interviewer, as I was then. Publicly I had to adopt a left-wing "devil's advocate" stance toward his reforms; privately I egged him on, even presumed to chide him that his "revolution" was not libertarian enough, what with his new taxes, his refusal to move against compulsory unionism, and all that anti-American anti-nuclear rubbish. I was right, of course—but Roger Douglas achieved miraculously more than anyone had any right to expect of a Finance Minister in a Labour Government whose Prime Minister, deep down, remained an unreconstructed socialist and success-hater. He achieved it because he was a single-minded conviction politician ... and he never slept. Ultimately, of course, Lange illegally ordered the juggernaut to halt at Taihape for his infamous "breather and cup of tea," and that was The End. But Douglas had done enough to save his country.

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Can he now save Act, the party he eventually spawned in the wake of Lange's betrayal?

That's over to Rodney. Whatever renewed association Roger has from this point on, Rodney is still the leader. And there's something not right with Rodney. He got the leadership after prolonged and very public breathing-down of Richard Prebble's neck. Having got it (over the objections of Roger) he didn't seem to know what to do with it. He was ideally poised to advance the near-libertarian agenda of his stated convictions, to repudiate the party's authoritarian conservative wing and establish Act once and for all as the party of individual freedom. Instead, he became a scandal-monger, infuriating Roger even more with his preoccupation with "sideshows." At the same time, inexplicably, he flaunted his friendship with a one-time publisher of a pedophile magazine, even after this fact came to light. Then he went on Dancing with the Stars, stunning the country with his clumsiness, stunning his partner by dropping her head-first to the floor ... yet earning respect for just hanging in there. During this period he had a physical meltdown of Donna Awatere-Huata magnitude, though presumably without the stomach staple. As the dancer became svelte, the politician became all touchy-feely, New-Agey ... and self-absorbed. Narcissus took Rodney over even as he affected to be newly "caring" about other people. A mirror replaced conviction. "Need a comment from Rodney? Sorry, he's at the gym. Sorry, he's doing Iron Man. Sorry, he's swimming the Tasman. Sorry, he's walking the Tasman. Sorry, he's being measured for new suits ... complete with haloes."

It's fine for Rodney to be fashionably gaunt and try to impersonate models, but it's hard to resist the conclusion that his last-remaining convictions melted away with his adipose. In any event, fashion and fitness shouldn't be his focus. He should step away from the mirror and back onto a soapbox. He should rediscover the libertarian convictions that once meant something to him. He should become a fire-breathing dragon of liberty. He should fair frighten the bejeezus out of the horses! He should finally stop meandering this way and that, stop obsessing about being loved and man up for what he knows to be right.

Some part of him must know this, since he's asked a conviction politician to save him. Sir Roger Douglas, as it happens, doesn't give a tinker's cuss about freedom as such, but many of his nostrums are freedom-friendly ... and he's single-minded about them. No vanity sideshows for Roger. If Rodney can emulate this facet of Roger and become a conviction politician on stilts, he'll not only be unique but might just also keep his seat on account of it.


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