The continuation of David Garrett’s guest posts on the Rise and Fall of the Act Party.
Decline and fall ? Part III
In April 2011 Rodney Hide told Don Brash he would support Brash as leader of ACT, thus putting to an end what was in effect a hostile takeover, and the public washing of dirty laundry which was by then occurring almost daily. Things came to a head rather quickly, which meant the “setup” the day after the leadership change was odd, to say the least.
Brash was the leader of a party he had joined two days before, but had no seat in the House. Rodney and John Boscawen were both MP’s and Ministers of the Crown. Brash wanted Rodney gone – from parliament if not the earth – because Brash viewed Hide as “toxic”, and the proximate cause of all of ACT’s problems. In his imagined perfect world, Hide would simply disappear, and be replaced as MP for Epsom by John Banks, a man who did not seem any kind of “fit” with many of ACT’s principles.
However, Hide had the confidence of the Prime Minister, and was also committed to being the “best MP for Epsom”, a position he had won and then held at two successive general elections. He saw no reason to resign from either position, and in my view he was quite justified in seeing things that way. Whether one agreed or disagreed with Hide’s strategic view, there had never been any question of his competence or work rate, either as a Minister or an MP.
The situation was ripe for the kind of shambles that is now ironically being played out a year or so later – an ongoing and unwelcome distraction for the government, and daily further ignominy for ACT. Thankfully for all concerned, fate had delivered John Boscawen as Deputy Leader of the Party, a man disliked by no-one important, and trusted by anyone who mattered as an honest broker.
One could write another book – albeit an unsaleable one – on the machinations which occurred in an attempt to resolve the apparent impasse. When the smoke cleared, Brash had agreed not to continue trying to rid himself of Hide “by lunch time”, Hide had agreed to step down at the 2014 election, Boscawen became the leader of the parliamentary caucus, and the bit players continued their roles.
While all this was happening, back at party HQ Brash was selling the idea of his mate Banks succeeding Hide as candidate and then MP for Epsom. Those with much longer track records in ACT than me remain puzzled how Brash convinced the Board to accept Banks as the vehicle for bringing Brash himself, and presumably one or two others into parliament at the 2014 election.
Everyone else has a theory, so here’s mine. Brash had promised the Board two things if he was leader of the Party. First, that he would bring in large sums of money which would not be forthcoming if Hide remained. Second, he would increase the Party’s vote at the election later in the year to at least 15%. It is hugely ironic given the public perception of ACT as “the rich pricks party” that in the first quarter of 2011 it was as usual broke, and scrabbling to pay the bills.
We now know that the party managed to raise and spend almost $1.3 million at the 2011 election. Presumably, some of that money had begun to flow in as soon as Brash became leader. If so, it seems credible to assume that the Board were persuaded that Brash was indeed the new messiah – after all he had pulled off a coup that had seemed laughable only weeks before, and his promises of being able to deliver money were coming to fruition. Surely a party vote of 15% – Brash apparently thought it would be more like 40% – was as deliverable as the money? As long as they followed the prescription of the good doctor.
So Banks was confirmed as MP in waiting in Epsom, and the train clattered on, its couplings increasingly strained, but still in one piece. For a while, it must have seemed that the storm clouds had cleared, and after November 2011, there would be a solid ACT caucus of Brash, Banks, John Boscawen and two or three others. Senior ACToids have apparently always been very optimistic.
Then, a new bombshell. John Boscawen announced he would not contest the election and would retire from politics “to spend more time with his family”, a well used political cliché normally employed to cover up something sinister. Since John is unmarried and has no children, it was assumed by the feverish media that the real reason for John’s decision must surely be something else. Wrong again. John meant exactly what he said, and knowing him as I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had to explain to him what the cliche normally meant.
For me, the next seemingly inexplicable decision was to abandon the Party’s law and order focus completely in favour of education and the usual “market forces and deregulation” economic policies. This despite the Party having achieved a major victory in the “three strikes” legislation, and for that and other reasons, having the tacit support of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, probably New Zealand’s most effective lobby group.
The appointment of a 25 year old university student as Justice Spokesman, and the concurrent release of some totally silly policies led quickly to Garth McVicar publicly telling his supporters that ACT had lost its way, and urging them to consider which other party best articulated SST’s goals. This was a not-so-subtle steer in the direction of the fledging Conservatives. The result? ACT got a lower Party vote than the Mana Party, and the Conservatives – which none of the pundits had taken seriously – got 2.8%, six months after being formed. Coincidence? Who knows.
Then three months after the worst election result in its history, the Banks fiasco. A week is certainly a long time in politics, and who knows what the coming sitting week will bring. Every political columnist has a theory or a prediction. The end of the week could see anything from Banks resigning from parliament – which in my view is unlikely – to the vultures in the mainstream media finding some new sideshow upon which to demonstrate how far the fourth estate has fallen since the likes of Ian Templeton or even Barry Soper began their careers as political journalists.
I understand that much of the debacle surrounding Banks stems from his refusal to take advice – which must surely have been to STFU and keep his head down. As Rodney Hide noted last Sunday, Banks is a politician from another era. He was used to Ministers giving press conferences – from which they might exclude journos they didn’t like. He was used to a time when journalists called Ministers “Mister” and wouldn’t dream of chasing them through building lobbies thrusting microphones up their noses. He must think he has mysteriously found himself elected to a foreign and not the New Zealand parliament. As they say, the past is another country.
Can ACT survive all this? Who knows. Hide and others have pointed out that ACT has been written off many times, but Phoenix like, somehow always rises again. For what it is worth, I doubt it can survive the collective blows inflicted on it which I have traversed in these three posts. Even if it does manage to stay alive to contest the next election, if the Conservative Party can avoid being branded “just another bunch of God botherers” and do significantly better than ACT in 2014, I believe, with some sadness, that would indeed be the final ACT, and the end of a remarkable story.Comment On This Article
Decline and Fall? Part II
As the cliché has it, a week is a long time in politics. There may never have been – at least in New Zealand – a better example of that maxim than the week of 13 to 19 September 2010. I began the week giving a speech on “three strikes” to a Rotary Club in East Auckland on the Monday evening. The “three strikes” law had passed, and I was doing everything I could to communicate to voters that it was a major policy win for ACT. By the following Friday, I had resigned from the ACT caucus in disgrace, and was on the run in the South Island, trying to shield my children from the howling dogs in the media who were trying to find us.
The reason for my downfall has been written about ad nauseum – including by me – and there is little point going over old ground here. Suffice it to say if Rodney’s trip to Europe was the first large nail in ACT’s coffin, for those whose agenda was personal aggrandizement rather than the interests of the party, my downfall was a godsend.
To the best of my knowledge, my friend Roger Douglas never joined the “Hide brought Garrett into the party and therefore it’s all his fault” bandwagon, although he certainly would not have been unhappy that Rodney was once again having to endure a grilling from both the media and those in the Party who were determined that he should be replaced.
Heather Roy however suddenly developed a serious case of amnesia about what had been discussed in my office in Albany when I disclosed the details of my sorry scam 27 years before. Following her own agenda, she was at the front of the “it’s all Hide’s fault” pack of baying hounds determined that my downfall would quickly be followed by Hide’s.
Following my resignation, I was largely out of the loop, but I record my everlasting gratitude to John Boscawen, who continued to extol my virtues and my achievement with “three strikes”, and was personally a great support to me and my family during the worst crisis of our lives. John Boscawen’s decision to leave politics immediately prior to the 2011 election was another mortal blow to the ACT Party. John is one of those rare people who no-one dislikes, but who also holds firmly to his principles, and is totally unafraid to stand out from the herd. I am very honoured to count him among my few true friends.
The real problem for Rodney following my departure was my replacement, Hilary Calvert, a long time ACT stalwart from Dunedin. From my limited acquaintance with her, Hilary is a delightful woman, but she quickly became known for a series of gaffes, and she provided even better sport for the left leaning media than I had been. More importantly, whereas with me the ACT caucus was firmly 3 -2 behind Rodney as leader, Hilary’s loyalties were soon revealed to be far less committed.
When the end came for Rodney seven months after her arrival, Hilary’s support for Don Brash over Rodney became decisive.
Don Brash – in many respects a most unlikely politician – had led National in 2005, and but for the debacle involving the Exclusive Brethren church, probably would have led National to victory in the election that year. There is certainly no doubt that his “Orewa” speeches about “one law for all” – another long time ACT policy – were directly responsible for the National Party virtually doubling their vote as compared with the previous election in 2002. The quite brilliant John Ansell billboards – the best of them the now legendary “Kiwi not iwi” series - reflected the concerns of middle New Zealand, and expressed in visual sound bites what Brash had articulated in much more detail in the speeches.
Following National’s defeat by a whisker in 2005, Brash was quickly replaced as leader by John Key, and Don largely disappeared off the political radar – although I do recall him not infrequently coming into the chamber and watching the proceedings from beside the Speaker’s chair, as all former MP’s are entitled to do. Clearly “the Don” was not finished with politics.
At one time, Brash was known among ACT insiders as “ACT’s tenth MP”. His sympathies were and clearly always had been in favour of the free market, limited government, a hard line on law and order, and no laws favouring one race of New Zealander over others – all key ACT policies. That notwithstanding, during February and March 2011, as it appeared more and more obvious that he would challenge Rodney for the leadership, no-one anywhere on the political spectrum could quite believe it. Political soufflés rarely rise twice – particularly in two different parties.
Two who did rise a second time were Brash – albeit fleetingly – and Peters.
Leaving aside differences in political principles and beliefs, the contrast between the wily, suave and teflon coated Peters and the bumbling Brash could not be more stark. That is the main reason no-one in ACT – or the media – initially took Brash seriously.
But by early 2011, ACT’s poll support was dismal, and major backers had deserted the Party. Brash promised that he would rejuvenate the Party’s fortunes – both in financial terms and in the polls. There is no doubt he truly believed that the 40% odd support National had gained in 2005 was down to him personally, and that were he to be leader, ACT’s support among voters would leap dramatically.
As the “Mr Magoo” like Brash managed one astonishing and unexpected triumph after another in his drive for the leadership of ACT, the tide against Hide became stronger and stronger. Hilary Calvert – whose vote in support of Hide was crucial – changed sides a number of times. Eventually, even the loyal and stalwart John Boscawen came to believe that Rodney ought to step down for the good of the Party.
I firmly believe Rodney Hide always had the good of the Party – and the country – paramount in his mind. Although he has been accused of “selling out for the baubles of office”, I am convinced that is not the case. As a recent interview with the reptilian Guyon Espiner makes clear, once Rodney saw the writing clearly on the wall, he did his best to assist Brash carry off his coup – although he did draw the line when Brash asked him where he should park his car before administering the coup de grace at ACT headquarters in Newmarket, before a phalanx of eager reporters and their cameras
I watched that press conference from a back room, and after it was over, saw Rodney take Brash into a private meeting with then Chief of Staff Peter Keenan to discuss the mechanics of the handover. I was astounded at Hide’s dignity and apparent good humour, when a lesser man would, at the very least, have simply walked off and left Brash to it.
And so Dr Don Brash – who joined ACT on the day of the coup which made him leader – took over the reins of the party, firmly convinced that in short order he would deliver not the 15% of the vote which he publicly claimed, but the 40% he truly believed would defect from National and follow him to ACT. The third four inch nail in the ACT coffin – the first two being Rodney’s disastrous trip, and my departure in disgrace – was nailed home.Comment On This Article
David Garrett phoned me about his series of guest posts. We disagree on his end hypothesis, but since I am not one to only publish echo chamber views here is his guest post about what he believes is the demise of the ACT party. There are two more parts.
Decline and Fall – the final ACT? (Part I)
The ACT party was formed by two former Ministers from opposite sides of the political divide – Derek Quigley and Roger Douglas. Both men had demonstrated that they were willing to think outside the political square in order to find “a better way” to improve the lives of all New Zealanders than had hitherto been offered by the two main parties. Both had also shown they were not prepared to always toe the party line regardless of how silly or pointless they personally saw that line to be.
At its height, ACT had nine MP’s, the best of which were superb – like Richard Prebble – and others whose names are now virtually unknown. While in opposition, ACT MP’s could do little to change things. Ironically, arguably their most effective action – Rodney’s “perk busting”, which led to the revelation that Labour Speaker Jonathon hunt spent more than $20,000 on taxis in a year – later came back to haunt Rodney and ACT, and arguably begin the possibly terminal decline of the Party. Whether the decline is terminal presently remains to be seen.
After almost being wiped out in 2005, in 2008 ACT got its big chance – five MP’s, and becoming a crucial support party to a centre right government led by National. In Rodney Hide, they had a leader who was certainly one of the smartest political operators in a generation. In the “three strikes” policy upon which ACT had campaigned strongly, they had a policy and draft legislation that could potentially be supported by National – although the smart money at the time was that it would die in Select Committee – but be recognized and promoted clearly as ACT and not National policy.
Unfortunately, the 2008 ACT caucus also contained the already germinating seeds of its own destruction in the form of Sir Roger Douglas and Heather Roy, a woman of limited intellect and even less personality, who had hitherto made no impact at all on public consciousness. Sir Roger, who I came to regard as a friend, had a dislike of Rodney, the depth of which I did not understand, either then or now.
Roger fundamentally disagreed with the direction we took, which could be summarized as “help keep the centre right in power, and take our wins and the credit for them when we can.” It was a view which I thought was the right one, and one in which I supported Rodney from the first to the last. Because he disagreed with that course, Roger was determined to replace Rodney with Heather Roy as leader – at least initially – and then, when he had gained enough experience, with John Boscawen.
Roy was always too stupid to realize that she was just a pawn, and that Roger’s promotion of her was merely a move in a longer game. Roy was supported in her delusions of ability by one Simon Ewing-Jarvie, a former army officer who became Roy’s most trusted confidante and advisor. Ewing-Jarvie also quickly became a major cause of friction between Roy and Rodney when the latter unearthed – through his extensive network – information which indicated that Ewing-Jarvie was likely to cause serious trouble, both to Roy personally and to the ACT Party.
From the first, Rodney made it crystal clear that we could not survive factionalism. I will never forget the first caucus meeting when he told us we were in the “death zone of New Zealand politics”, and that no small party had survived intact once it had joined in government with a larger party; the Alliance Party perhaps being the best example – until now – of self destruction.
The first chance Roy and Roger got to try and remove Rodney was following Hide’s disastrous decision to use one of the very “perks” he had campaigned so publicly against to take his then girlfriend with him on a Ministerial trip to the USA and Europe. The trip was entirely within the rules, but that was not the point. If in fact he ever really did, it took Rodney a very long time to “get” that public perception was everything, and the fact that he had complied with the rules meant little or nothing to the public. Ironically, it is the same lesson John Banks is slowly learning now.
Roy could barely restrain her glee at the pressure Rodney faced over “the trip”. Roger remained a smiling enigma throughout; John Boscawen and I supported Rodney without reservation – at least in public. Once Rodney had made his mea culpa on television, there was never any doubt in John and my minds that he deserved our continuing support. By the time the saga died down – once the left aligned media had milked every last drop from it – the score was clearly Camp Hide 1, Heather Roy and Roger 0.
The next major opportunity to remove Hide was of course following my own downfall, which was engineered to occur when Hide Hide Huidwas out the country. By that time, I had unequivocally aligned myself with him, and at a party meeting open to the public, verbally slapped down a party member who was pushing for Hide’s replacement by Roy. A week or so later, all hell broke loose.
Ironically, I am one of the few members of “team Rodney” who is by no means sure Roy was behind the leak which was to end my career, and to later become a major contributor to Hide’s downfall. I realized from the very first time Hide approached me to stand that “the passport scam” was likely to emerge and cause serious trouble, both for me personally, and for ACT.
Hide took the view that the wrongdoing was so long ago – I had committed the offence in 1984 – that it would be of no consequence, and if it did emerge, they would “handle it.” At a later meeting at my then office in Albany, I was asked whether I had skeletons in my closet. I am on record as replying that I did, “ a big f….rattling one”.
Those at that meeting were John Boscawen, Roger Douglas, an ACT board member, and Heather Roy. I explained what I had done and how, and repeated the truth: that I had no reason to do it, and at the time I simply saw it as a prank. To their great credit, other than Roy, none of the others at that meeting have ever denied that I made a full disclosure of what I had done so long before, and its sequel in a court case three years earlier, in 2005.
Not long after that meeting in Albany I was offered list position number five after a former MP “spat the dummy” at being offered a list place much lower than he thought he was worth. The timebomb began ticking from that point.Comment On This Article
John Banks has been quiet since the election, but on the weekend at the ACT conference he started to speak up…the first pronouncement, put interest back on student loans and fight middle class welfare:
Comment On This Article
Act leader John Banks has made an attack on “middle-class welfare”, urging National to bite the bullet and restore interest rates to student loans.
In a hard-hitting speech to Act’s annual conference on Saturday – his first as both party member and leader – Mr Banks reconfirmed Act’s policy to incrementally raise the age of entitlement for state-funded superannuation from 65 to 67.
He told the 80 or so party members present that Act’s role was to provide some “reinforcing steel” to persuade National to make the unpopular decisions needed to restore the vital connection between “effort and reward” which had been undermined by Labour administrations.
“We stand against middle-class welfare … We stand against everybody else being taxed for tertiary graduates to have a free ride.”
Mr Banks also had harsh words for “tin god council bureaucrats” whose “out-of-control” spending and town planning restrictions had put home ownership out of reach of a whole generation of New Zealanders.
He said Act had an “awesome responsibility” in ensuring it returned MPs in numbers at the 2014 election to ensure the centre-right stayed in power.
John Banks has been confirmed as Act’s leader:
Comment On This Article
Act’s sole MP, John Banks, has become its new leader.
The decision was made by the Act board and the announcement was made this afternoon at Parliament.
Announcing the decision a short time ago, Act president Chris Simmons said the board’s decision had been unanimous.
Mr Banks told a press conference said he was focused on taking a repositioned Act Party into the next election.
“Every day is campaign day.”
He said the party was returning to its heritage – the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers.
Good, if you can’t follow the rules you deserve to be prosecuted:
The Electoral Commission has referred the following matter to the Police:
- ACT on Campus ‘Not your typical party’ flyer, baseball cap and t-shirt.
It is the Electoral Commission’s view that the publication of the ACT on Campus flyer, baseball cap and t-shirts constitutes a breach of sections 204F and 204H of the Electoral Act 1993 because the items are election advertisements that did not contain a valid promoter statement and were not authorised in writing by the ACT party secretary.
As this matter is now with the Police, the Electoral Commission will not be commenting further.
Now if the Police could progress the log jam of complaints referred to them I might have just a bit more confidence in our Electoral System, that repeat offenders and law breakers actually get prosecuted.Comment On This Article
Perhaps the 1595 Libertarianz and the 50 odd “classical liberals” of the Act party could all emigrate…to Honduras:
Comment On This Article
Now, for the first time, libertarians have a real chance to implement their ideas. In addition to a big special development region, the Honduran government intends to approve two smaller zones. And two libertarian-leaning start-ups have already signed a preliminary memorandum of understanding with the Honduran government to develop them.
One firm goes by the name of Future Cities Development Corporation. It was co-founded by Patri Friedman, a grandson of Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate in economics, and until recently executive director of the Seasteading Institute, a group producing research on how to build ocean-based communes. The other is called Grupo Ciudades Libres(Free Cities Group) and is the brainchild of Michael Strong and Kevin Lyons, two entrepreneurs and libertarian activists.
Both share a purpose: to build “free cities”. Last April all three spoke at a conference organised by Universidad Francisco Marroquín, a libertarian outfit in Guatemala. In September they and Giancarlo Ibárgüen, the university’s president, launched the Free Cities Institute, a think-tank, to foster the cause.
As so often with enthusiasts, divisions within the cause run deep. The two firms hail from different parts of the libertarian spectrum. Mr Friedman is an outspoken critic of democracy. It is “ill-suited for a libertarian state”, he wrote in an essay in 2009—because it is “rigged against libertarians” (they would always lose) and inefficient. Rather than giving its citizens a voice, he argues, they should be free to exit; cities should compete for them by offering the best services.
The second firm’s backers appear to be less radical. A founder of several charter schools, Mr Strong is now the force behind FLOW, a movement that claims to combine libertarian thinking “with love, compassion, social and environmental consciousness”, says its website. He too prefers exit over voice (meaning that he thinks that leaving and joining are better constraints on executive power than the ballot box). But he also believes that democratic consent is needed in certain areas, such as criminal justice. His goal in Honduras is less to implement libertarian ideals than to reduce poverty and to speed up economic development.
I read the herald online this morning and saw that yet again Mrs Colin Carruthers QC is spewing bile at the ACT party.
Does this sour old woman not understand the concept of letting her hatred of ACT go?
That Sir Roger Douglas is apparently scribbling his evil and self-centred thoughts on the back of an airplane sick bag, is somehow prophetic.
The last comment is funny though – Goldsmith an ACT libertarian at heart. I doubt he’ll find that helpful.Comment On This Article
The leftwing is doing their nut over Charter Schools. They are mad as hell and they are prepared to lie about it.
They seem to have only a couple of plays right now. The first is the totally lame “No Mandate” argument. They can’t seriously claim that they believe that for one minute. If Phil Goff had made it to PM with just 27% of the vote then using their logic there would have been no CGT, no removing of GST off fruit and veges and arguably they would have had a mandate to stop the asset sales.
The other argument is that the ACT party didn’t campaign on this policy. This is an out right lie, their policy precisely outlines the details, the only thing missing is the words “Charter Schools”:
- Increase the autonomy that local principals and staff have in running their school. Boards and principals should be able, for example, to set teacher remuneration at their discretion like any other employer, rather than having a rigid, seniority based pay scale;
- Further increase the subsidy for independent schools so that parents who choose independent schools for their children do not lose so much of their child’s share of education funding;
- Encourage choice in assessment systems, whether they be NCEA, Cambridge International Examination, International Baccalaureate, or other qualifications.
The last line of attack they keep using is that ACT sneaked back into parliament by rorting MMP. Well excuse me, this is the system they spent many, many hours campaigning to keep, this is the system that nine unions, including all the teacher unions all campaigned to retain. They really need to suck it up. John Banks won Epsom, end of story.
The government needed ACT and so we have a new policy to trial. This is how MMP is supposed to work.Comment On This Article
John Banks has scored a good deal for the ACT party in his negotiations with John Key:
National has reached agreements with United Future’s Peter Dunne and ACT’s John Banks, as it moves toward forming a government.
Banks has won two ministerial roles and two associate ministerial posts as part of a confidence and supply agreement with National. He will be Minister of Regulatory Reform and Minister of Small Business. He is also Associate Minister of Education and Associate Minister of Commerce.
Banks will be a minister outside of Cabinet but gets a spot on three Cabinet committees – expenditure control, economic growth and infrastructure and appointments and honours.
ACT will be very happy that they will be able to exert some influence on expenditure control and growth plans.Comment On This Article