Former Act MP Stephen Franks explains why Act is doomed

Former Act MP Stephen Franks explains why Act is doomed:

A Newsroom article this week has quoted me and Richard Prebble on the future for ACT and why it did so poorly. I got into my thinking on this with the journalist, but evidently he did not have the space for that part of our conversation (or my musing was too dense).

I think the journalist was probably too dense to understand a sensible and erudite person like Stephen Franks.

I believe ACT will not flourish until it is perceived as being comprised and lead by people who understand and share most people’s need and respect for altruism, nationalism and other expressions of the social and collectivist part of our nature. I, and most of the fellow citizens I trust, want to be lead by people who show genuine commitment to institutions that reinforce mutual obligation and support.

Too few people to matter electorally will ever trust a party, and people, who do not understand and reflect our collective impulses.

Most of the people who’ve lead in ACT knew that, intuitively. They were extraordinarily unselfish. They lived the values of effective collective obligations.  Sir Roger Douglas’s health, welfare and education policies were directed to creating very strong institutions, best compared to those in Singapore. He wanted reform to ensure long term political support for the social safety net. He was an original supporter of what is now called UBI, with a reverse income tax scheme. He wanted to reinforce the values of social duty and responsibility, but working with how people actually respond, rather than the current NZ model which rewards free-riders on the generosity of hard working neighbours.

But people were deaf to him. ACT branded him to them, but he reinforced that branding by being sometimes tone deaf to fears. Public musing, for example, on auctioning passports, sent a message that closed ears to the logic of that position, let alone his other mechanisms to strengthen the values of collaboration and mutual support.

Public musing has often been the undoing of Act party people. The media aren’t smart and they go for the sensational, and so thoughtful nuanced views are ignored over headline-grabbing sensationalism, and a fair bit of labelism. For instance Act has always been labelled far right, which they aren’t. Most founding members were from Labour for Pete’s sake.

The journalist was testing the line that ACT’s brand is toxic, and that it needs to become clearly classically liberal. I accepted both as possibilities, but said I thought ‘classical liberal’ was now scarcely understood by the voting population. It would be confused with libertarian, yet condemned when it failed to embrace liberal/progressive causes (eg feeble on crime, keen on minority ‘rights’ that are in fact privileges dependent on coercing others) that are anything but classically liberal.

Who even knows what classically liberal is? My eyes glaze over just thinking about it, and I’m one of Act’s target market and a political junkie.

Nevertheless I see that the predominant view of commentators on WhaleOil and Kiwiblog about the very low party vote for ACT appears to be that it needs to become more “liberal”. They remind me of the Green activists who are convinced that the missing million and the Labour apostates will come to them when their party is more adamantly Corbynist.

Both sets of zealots ignore and deplore what drives normal humans. Sadly for ACT, however, the Corbynist vision can be made to appear closer to how people want to think of themselves and their leaders.

I did not want to give the journo hostile lines, so refrained from directly disagreeing with him in any concise way. But those who dream of wide enthusiasm for ‘ liberalism’ are to me more ideologically blind than the Corbynistas. The libertarian vision of the perfectible human may be even further from human nature than theirs.

There is a confusion between the meaning of liberal in New Zealand and liberal in the US. It continues to confuse. The left-wing likes to hijack language, hence their grabbing of progressive…as if any other ideology is regressive. They also like grabbing liberal to mean leftism…see the problem. Of course, the policy wonks who currently infest Act don’t, they see it as an opportunity to debate the meaning and therefore lose the room to boredom and indifference.

I suspect that David Seymour is more in touch with his electorate’s nature than our current holders of the Green brand.

And it may not be ACT’s internal struggles that capture our attention over this next Parliamentary term.

From contact with young voters, I think TOP  could provide a reassuring home for the environmental Green supporters. TOP could expropriate the real Green brand and leave the NZ Corbynistas with Marama Davidson in a rump “Green” party. Without any anti-waka jumping law now, they could even support Parliamentary defection, for example by James Shaw and Julie Anne Genter.

I suspect that the TOP party will remain too beholden to Gareth Morgan to adhere to the discipline that would need. He would have to leave many of his social justice hobby horses unridden, to highlight his reliability as a true environmental Green.  Assuming that he could not avoid being drawn into social justice warfare, TOP and the rump Greens would end up fighting over the same dirigiste/inequality/Treaty worship voters – the types that just will not tolerate the compromises demanded by MMP (and democracy). That would continue to obscure and confound the fantastic Green/environmental brand. They’ll damage each other too much to gain the NZ First type power to determine who governs.

Or here is another thought…rebrand Act as a proper Green party, supported by free-market principles to pay for it. Call it “Act Green”, the name actually describes how people should vote…for action.


-Stephen Franks

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.