Friday, January 21, 2005

The Lesser of Two Extremes

Yesterday Rodney Hide gave his first 'State of the Nation' speech to outline ACT's platform for 2005. He annouced a watered down taxation policy, said ACT would get 'tough' on crime and made vague references to school vouchers, healthcare privitisation, and an uninspiring welfare 'reform' policy. It was a damp squib. Earlier this week Jeanette Fitzsimmons gave the Green equivalent of a 'State of the Nation' speech a 'Chant to our earth mother Gaia' if you will. It set out the aims of the Greens for this election year, the speech included 'different' or what perhaps some would call 'insane' ideas such as banning oil in New Zealand. But it energised the core Green supporters, provoked interest from left leaning voters and prompted a barrage of contempt from many right wing commentators. Conversely the reaction to the ACT speech has been polite applause, a yawn and a snigger. Perhaps the liberal commentators (like those from this blog) are too busy on drug fuelled Big Day Out related benders to notice?

I want ACT to excite me as a centre-right voter, I want them to give me a reason to vote for them, because if they had a ideologically coherent set of policies or at very least some form of inspirational leadership, I would. I don't think it's too much to ask. I want my right wing party's policies and ideas to enrage those on the left, much as the Greens' does to their opposites. ACT's policies don't inspire me to vote for them, the core of their policies are still essentially the same as the right of National. What happened to the flat tax? You are the party of the right, not the centre-right, a progressive income tax system is the antithesis of what ACT is meant to stand for. ACT policy is flat tax. ACT proposing a progressive tax system is akin to the Greens supporting free trade or Winston championing increased immigration. And stop saying 'a tax cut for every worker' when for the 500,000 people who currently pay 15% the tax rate would remain unchanged (true, most of these taxpayers are not 'workers', but not all). Either change the policy so the statement is true or stop saying it. It does sound good but if it's not 100% true it tends to lessen the impact of the actual policy. On the subject of silly phrases, if you want to get lower income workers to vote for you, don't call yourself the 'workers party', rightly or wrongly by deed of their name - 'Labour' have got that brand-perception sewn up. Don't proclaim you are 'the conservative party' while standing in front of a logoboard that states you are 'the Liberal Party'. What is 'the message'? You are a conservative liberal? a liberal conservative? ACT likes gay marriage as long as there are tax cuts? they like the death penalty and want to increase Government spending on gay handicapped Pacific Island art exhibitions in Oamaru? I'm sure that the slogans 'liberal party' and 'the only party standing up for the workers' perform well in the rarefied air of a focus group but on your 30 seconds of national television exposure it makes you and your party look foolish.

So if ACT's policies and 'message' don't do much for me, do ACT's people make me want to vote for them? Well if someone like Muriel Newman is the second best candidate your party has then it's safe to say your party has a charmisa deficit problem (or your party is called NZ First). As such I can only see John Banks joining ACT for one reason, to become the party's leader. Like a vulture circling a charisma-deprived prey, Banks will wait for Hide to fall on his sword after the election and turn ACT into his own version of Winston First. I think even that nightmare/dream (depending whether you are Aaron Bhatnagar or not) would be more successful than what ACT's current rudderless direction will provide.

National needs a right wing coalition partner to govern, but perhaps ACT isn't the right one. I don't think National have much chance this year, so maybe it wouldn't be so bad if ACT crashed and burned after this election, at least then the right would have the opportunity to build a party that actually represents right wing ideals rather than just being National Lite with extra fruit and nuts.


Anonymous said...

Hang on "right wing ideals"? It seems to me that the centre-right has progressively got more and more right until there are no longer ideals left, just slightly crazed ideologies. Act will never do anything significant in Parliament or government because their sort of unempathetic rantings only appeal to monied sociopaths who think they have a right to enjoy a comfortable life at the expense of the poor and unemployed. Oh, that and the fact that Murial Neuman is in Act. 

Posted by Matt

Anonymous said...

I think you're right in pointing out the contradictory and confused messages being put out by ACT at the moment. The biggest of all of course is Rodney in the leadership.

He's visibly uncomfortable in the role, and his political value is as a headbanger slightly removed from the leadership. It's a strange mess, and their biggest problem of all is that their political fate rests on the decisions made by another Party - National. 

Posted by michael wood

Anonymous said...

I think you're right to point out the contradictory and confusing political messages being sent out by ACT atm. The biggest of all of course is Rodney in the leadership.

He is visibly uncomfortable in the role, and the shift to leadership has castrated him in his most politically useful role, that of a headbanger. ACT's biggest problem now is that their political fate rests in the hands of another Party - National. 

Posted by michael wood

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more, but the problem is not Rodney, it's that he is surrounded by incompetent people, which makes life very difficult for him. All I can say is "watch this space". 

Posted by Whig