The predicament of the ACT Party

Richard Prebble proposes that with him as Campaign Director for ACT’s 2014 election campaign, that ACT can win both the Epsom seat and 9 MP seats in Parliament.

Sure its early days but given the latest Colmar Brunton poll which has ACT at only 0.4% of the Party vote, its an ambitious goal, to put it mildly.

In my view, ACT has 2 major limitations to overcome to pull a 7.5% share of the party vote out of the ballot boxes on Election Day:

  1. The perception that ACT is a radical far right party; and
  2. Attracting around 7 times the number of votes ACT won at the last election.

On point 1, New Zealander’s obviously have an aversion to far right politics. For instance, the deregistration of Libertarianz (laissez faire capitalists) and the persistently low polling of the ACT Party itself, suggest the majority of New Zealander’s are moderates. This is no surprise given the duopolistic characteristics of our electoral system despite MMP.

A similar aversion is obviously true about the far left, noting that the Mana Party weren’t even included in the latest Colmar Brunton poll.

Some might argue that ACT are not actually a far right party but are instead an obvious right wing choice as opposed to National who sit closer to the centre. I guess that is a matter of interpretation, but when a Party’s founding principles are grounded heavily in capitalist individualism, its difficult to deny the radicalism inherent in their philosophy.

On point 2, increasing the share of the party vote will not come easily for ACT. Firstly, for the reasons stated above, namely, New Zealander’s aversion to far right politics. Secondly, National and Labour dominate and frame the political debate around the issues that these two parties see as significant. This makes it difficult for any minor party to set itself apart from the major parties without being hit with allegations of radicalism. The main parties use the ‘radical’ phrase pejoratively against minor parties to preserve their own apparently moderate (yet highly statist) status and to maintain their respective majorities.

In order for ACT to attract the votes it needs to get 9 MP’s, ACT will have to set itself apart from National in a way that puts it in competition with National. A fine balance is required to ensure that ACT isn’t viewed as toxic to the National brand. If ACT can’t moderate policies that National view as radical, this might negatively impact on their relationship. Remembering how Labour had a similar struggle with the Mana Party claiming the two parties could not work together (largely based on perceptions/public aversion to the Mana Party, especially at that time).

Of course, National would not want to be in a position where it had to rule out ACT, as ACT is really its safest bet as a coalition partner. Moreover, ACT have no chance of getting anywhere close to 7.5% if National ruled out working with them. Whether National want to see ACT attain that many seats is also questionable. This suggests to me that Prebble’s strategy to achieve the 9 MP’s in Parliament, is likely to involve casting aside ACT’s libertarian roots for a few seats in the plutocracy. Abandoning their principles, and making a hypocrite of Jamie Whyte in the process.

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2 comments

  1. Your last sentence is interesting. My understanding is it was Prebble who was pushing for Whyte in the leadership run – which did surprise me – so I can’t see him then sidelining Whyte after the event. It appears Richard has come to his senses and now truly is a classical liberal.

    Of course I disagree with your tagging Libertarianz (or Whyte) as hard right wing – per my Ukraine redux piece this morning, we are not Tories ‘at all’. Although you are still correct, I suspect, to label ACT, itself, right wing, which is the problem I have. I love Jamie’s classical liberalism, but I’m yet to see that hold sway with the party. I’m hopeful though.

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    1. Re Prebble – He’s made it clear in both his press statement, and other articles I’ve seen this morning, that he adores John Key. This makes me think that despite any ideological jump to classical liberalism, he will pander to the Nats. He obviously wants to ride on the ‘good reputation’ of the Nats to boost ACT’s numbers. I personally think this is a bad move for ACT. Instead of pandering to the Nats and striving for the unlikely target he has set, why wouldn’t he use this election to build momentum so that in future fewer of ACT’s principles need to be compromised? Also, I dont think its his intention to sideline Whyte, I think that this could be an unintended consequence if ACT’s goal is on the one hand to get back to its ‘principles’ but also to make very good friends with the Nats.

      I actually did have a bit in this post about the Left/Right distinction (and how more people are rejecting it), but cut it at the last minute. I understand that traditional classical libs are not Tories and dont fit neatly into a right/left spectrum, but I remain of the view that compared to our current state of affairs, Libertarianz were considered (rightly or wrongly) by the ‘moderates’ a radical far right party, and it was the ‘radical’ bit that separated Libertarianz from the Tories, as a matter of public perception.

      Maybe Prebble will work some magic and ACT will pull a 7.5% out of the ballot boxes. At this stage, I’m highly skeptical, is all.

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