Monday, May 2, 2011

Ron Smith: The King is dead, long live the King

I valued my association with Rodney Hide, in the early days of ACT, when I was an active member of the Party. He was an affable colleague and a memorable expositor of social and economic policy. Later, I collaborated with him in a persistent but, ultimately unsuccessful bid to get the truth about the shooting, in East Timor, of New Zealand army private, Leonard Manning. I was impressed by his work ethic and his persistence. By this time, I was no longer a member of the Party. Later, again, I noted (from a distance) his effort to remake himself physically, which cumulated in his high profile participation in ‘Come Dancing’. It is deeply ironic that this admirable project also provided an incident that gave his political opponents endless opportunity for mockery. But, ultimately, it was the failure of the ACT Party under his leadership to make any progress in the opinion polls with another election looming that brought the final humiliation this week. I hope he will leave Parliament, at the end of the year, with the appreciation of his colleagues, and of Party members, and I hope that his obvious talents will find a suitable outlet from that point on.

We shall soon see how the new ‘king’ will rule. The coup, itself, seems to have been a masterpiece of precision and effectiveness. But the new monarch, too, has skeletons in his cupboard and his opponents are already rattling them. On the other hand, Dr Brash knows what he wants, and there are plenty of electors, beyond the membership of ACT, who are dissatisfied with present political choices. This latter particularly applies to traditional National voters (and some National Party activists) who have been infuriated by their Party’s irrational attachment to the global warming myth and its progressive pandering to Maori interests, as well as a more general reluctance to tackle the evident, and growing, problem of public debt. There are also less traditionally committed voters who see these things and who would welcome a broader critique of New Zealand politics than the present coterie of centre and (in varying degrees) centre-left parties is presently offering. As things are presently shaping up, it is up to Dr Brash. The drama that has occupied his assumption of the leadership of ACT ought to make it easy to command public attention, and a spurt of optimism amongst the groups mentioned above, might result in a boost of public support for the Party but it will need to be followed up by clearly articulated specifics.

Foremost amongst these, are policies to address the inevitable economic decline which will follow from the failure to deal effectively with the consequences of present demographic trends and entitlement patterns. Prime Minister Key seems to be in utter denial about these things and the other parliamentary parties (other than ACT) are hardly likely to criticise, beyond asking for more. It is a void Dr Brash is well-qualified to fill, through his background as an economist and former Reserve Bank Governor.

The issue of supposed anthropogenic global warming is a very peculiar one, from a political point of view. Opinion surveys in New Zealand, and countries like it, already reveal a substantial scepticism about official claims of impending disaster, and, particularly, voters everywhere are reluctant to support taxation to head it off. This is especially the case, since some proponents of the global warming hypothesis already concede that the measures actually proposed are unlikely to have a significant impact, even in (for politics) the long term. This is certainly the case as far as New Zealand’s contribution is concerned and the absurdity of continuing with present policies (notably the ETS) is only underlined by the fact that nobody will follow us. This may not be an issue which will determine voter intentions but it is a policy which clearly marks ACT off from any other party.

Maori representation and effective policies to deal with claims for special treatment by Maori are clearly signature issues for Dr Brash and, in the wake of the passage of the Marine and Coastal Areas Act, and the extraordinary decision to secretly commit New Zealand to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, he will need to address these matters in a systematic and detailed way. It will not be easy. His opponents will seek to dismiss any attempt at debate with accusations of racism. He will need to get beyond this. We ought to be able to discuss the issue of equal representation as a matter of constitutional propriety in a multicultural society, notwithstanding undertakings that may have been given 160 years ago, when society was very different. Equally, we do need to address the linkages between health, education and economic problems in Maori (and Islander) communities and social policy settings, that have been long accepted and may now be contributing to the problem.


Brian said...

The King is dead, long live the King.!
Dr Smith’s blog on Dr. Brash’s position brings to mind a similar situation that the Stuart Jacobite Kings found themselves in after 1745; namely a King without a throne. Although toasted nightly by their supporters by passing their wine glasses over water, but when called upon to actively support the Jacobite cause preferred the sensible solution of letting “sleeping dogs lie”, and enjoying the fruits of the Hanoverian dynasty.
Dr. Brash has a chance to “capitalise” (pardon the pun) on the silly political situations which come with an MMP Parliament, in that he may receive many disaffected National Party votes, but incur the wrath of the left wing Luddites. These environmentalist left wingers living as they do in the dreamworld of a Past and wallowing in a make believe historical nostalgia; will be angered by any attempts to interfere with “natural” New Zealand and its “clean green image”. The Act Party and many National supporters recognise that minerals, farming and prudent spending as the only method to reduce our huge external financial borrowing, while regretfully the majority of our citizens still expect a “Government” to “provide all the extras” which come only with a vibrant healthy economy.
The question arises that if the vote for a change to our electoral voting system changes and STV becomes the new voting system; how this will relate in our new Parliament and upon the minor parties?
Clearly as Dr Smith states there is dissatisfaction among many people with the Marine & Coastal Act and more so, with both the ETS and the continual subsidies handed out to Maori. But are these voters enough to give a solid number of seats to Act after the next election to impact on the next government? Also the apathy of a population whose attention at the time will be riveted on the Rugby World Cup, and whether the next government is going to cut their subsidies? Which they of course they have a right too!
Unlike the French Jacobins in 1792, we have no impetus for a huge radical revolt; our democratic upbringing can be relied upon to abhor a bloody revolution for change. Therefore the Act Party will have to galvanise themselves by the application of logic at the next election, to secure enough public support to warrant electoral seats, and at the same time into helping the National Party reclaim its roots,
“From political borrowing to live, to political producing to live.”

hayman chaffey said...

It is a dark day for the act party ,we in the south island remember Don Brash when he was governor of the reserve bank, we will never
forget how he effected us in the late 1990s
with high interest was like a hammer to auckland and a sledgehammer to the south.
Act should of had Dr muriel Newman as the leader.not Don Brash ,he wont get support from the south island.

Paul Goodsort said...

I would like to think Rodney has some part to play in a resurgent ACT Party. Without his drive in Epson the party would have been toast by now. He deserves respect and death by dignity.