The worst of all possible good outcomes

Barring highly-unlikely results from the special votes, New Zealand has re-elected a right-of-centre government. Labour and the Greens are kept from the Treasury benches at what would have to be one of the worst possible times to have them there.

So much for the good news.

The bad news starts with the fact that, to all intents and purposes, New Zealand is now bereft of a classically liberal party. ACT survived the election in the same way that Christopher Reeves survived his riding accident. But there’ll not be anything inspiring or ennobling about the crippled half life of the ACT party.

With just one more seat, Don Brash would have made it into Parliament and then resigned, vacating his seat for Catherine Isaac who could have become leader. Instead, the arch-conservative John Banks will be leader and sole MP.

Catherine Isaac could have revitalised ACT in a way that Don Brash probably never really stood any chance of doing, and John Banks will have no interest in doing. Banks’ response to Brash’s comments on marijuana law reform made it clear that he simply doesn’t agree with the party’s stated principle that “individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives” (although nor did the party executive). Unless he decides to borrow some of Rodney Hide’s suits, there’ll be no telling Banks from a deep-blue Nat MP.

Classical liberals in National, ACT and Libertarianz will need to regroup and think about how to capture the public’s imagination. I cannot believe that 10 times as many New Zealanders seriously support the massive increase in state control advocated by the Greens as support ACT’s small government platform. The Greens did as well as they did because they were able to exploit warm fuzzy feelings associated with “equality, rivers and kids”. ACT were destroyed at least in part because no-one knew if their vote would be wasted on ACT or not.

Somehow, liberals need to get people to engage at an emotional level with individual freedom, personal responsibility and economic growth. The notion that income inequality is a social evil needs to be seriously challenged, without recourse to graphs and charts. The politics of envy needs to be confronted by the politics of aspiration.

A new vehicle will need to be created to carry that message to Parliament. I seriously doubt that the ACT party has any ongoing value in that regard. This time around, classical liberals should present themselves as being willing to work with Labour on socially liberal issues, or with National on economically liberal ones. This ought to win them more votes, and, more importantly, give them more influence on whichever of the major parties they work with.

Winston Peters’ return to Parliament is certainly no cause for celebration. Peters’ utter cynicism has a corrupting effect on New Zealand politics. His political resurrection is a reward for his total disregard for the truth and for his unfailing eye for a political opportunity. 2014 is a long way off yet, but Peters looks well positioned to reprise his role as kingmaker. John Key is right to see that as a destabilising influence.

There are at least two countervailing forces that could yet prevent this, however. The first is Peters himself. Three years could be enough time to remind voters why they got rid of him. The second is that 2014 is likely to be a closer fight between Labour and National. Labour voters who voted tactically to get Peters over the line this time may well not do so next time.

On the other hand, it is likely that the threshold required to get MPs in on the list without an electorate seat is likely to be lowered when MMP is reviewed. This will work in Peters’ favour, as will the fact that he’s not in government.

A lower threshold would also make it more likely that new minor parties will emerge as potential coalition partners for National. I would not be surprised to see Colin Craig’s Conservative Party make it in next time if the threshold is, say, 3%.

Hopefully a lower threshold will also allow for a new liberal party to rise from the ashes of ACT’s demise.


9 comments on “The worst of all possible good outcomes

  1. Redbaiter says:

    “Arch Conservative John Banks”

    Good grief.

    You know I really try hard not to get annoyed with you “classically liberal” guys but this claim is just preposterous nonsense.

    Banks is a Conservative like Paris Hilton is an intellectual.

    On what planet do you get these strange perceptions?

  2. Paranormal says:

    OK Redbaiter, can you define Banks political philosophy? He certainly epitomises the ‘arch conservative’ to me.


  3. Redbaiter says:

    If Banks has a political philosophy at all, I’ve yet to see evidence of it.

    One judges politicians by what they do, not by what they say.

    • Redbaiter, I’m intrigued. What is it that Banks does that makes you think he’s not a conservative?

      I get that you identify as a conservative and that you don’t like Banks, but that in itself is not enough to invalidate my categorisation.

      • Redbaiter says:

        Jezuz…!! You’re kidding me right?

        1) Banks has no political principles

        2) Banks talks the talk but has completely failed to walk the walk

        3) Banks himself has only a very shallow idea of the concept of true conservatism

        4) Fundamental Conservatism is about infinitely small government that primarily exists to protect the property and individual rights of citizens. Name one thing Banks has done that has been profitable to this ideal? You cannot.

        5) True Conservatism was most evidenced in the government set up by the rebels soon after the American War of independence and ratified in the American Constitution. when have you ever heard Banks say anything that indicates he understand this? Again I will tell you the answer- Never. Not ever.

        Those who call Banks a Conservative are showing their complete ignorance of what traditional Conservatism truly is, or else deliberately trying to discredit that idea so as to build a platform for their own misguided brand.

  4. Can the author of NZ Classical Liberal flick me an email?

    -Peter McCaffrey

  5. Redbaiter says:

    Of course given that I have been kind enough to submit to your own interrogations, perhaps NZCL, you could explain why you think John Banks qualifies as a Conservative.

    • Certainly, Redbaiter. I’m not ignoring your comments, it’s just I don’t get to log in as often as I’d like.

      I think part of the issue here is that our definitions of conservative are not completely overlapping.

      I tend to use the term conservative in the social sense. In general, I think a conservative is someone who believes in the use of state power to enforce social norms governing standards of behaviour beyond that required to prevent people (non-consensually) harming each other. So, I would expect a conservative to oppose legislation recognising the rights of homosexuals to have sex; marry; or adopt children, allowing mothers to abort unwanted children, liberalising drug laws, or granting the terminally ill the right to end their own lives as they see fit.

      It is my understanding that Banks stated political positions align closely to the above.

      It sounds to me as though what you consider to be ‘true conservatism’ is not too distant from what Americans have been known to call ‘libertarian conservatism’. I agree that Banks does not fit that definition of conservative. I’m even willing to accept on balance of probabilities your assertion that Banks hasn’t put a great deal of thought into precisely what his philosophy is.

      What I don’t accept is your assertion that your brand of conservatism is the only form with the right to use the name, particularly since I think only a minority of those who would self-identify as conservative would adhere to your form of it.

  6. Ross says:

    NZ Classical Liberal, what you call a conservative is actually authoritarian.

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