Summer speeches 2008: Hide has knives out for Clark – but kid gloves for Key

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Douglas to Dancing’, a blog I maintained from 2007-9 on the ACT New Zealand political party. The blog was an extension of the thesis I wrote about the Act Party in 2007, From Douglas to Dancing: explaining the lack of success of ACT New Zealand and evaluating its future prospects (PDF).

The reaction from ACT to the speeches given this week by John Key and Helen Clark is extremely interesting. Soon after each leader had given his or her speech, ACT had a press release from Rodney Hide on its website – a rarity in itself these days, when one is more accustomed to seeing a digital stack of issues of Heather Roy’s Diary.

First up, Hide commented on Key. It was the traditional “good, but not far enough” argument from ACT. Hide “welcomed” the “good” speech. Key’s “youth entitlement” was a “good” policy. The only problem was that the speech was not “bold enough”. This is the natural way for ACT to oppose National, a party which is not far enough right as ACT would like, especially under John Key.

On Wednesday, it was time to pass judgment on Helen Clark. If she had thought last year’s mateship from Hide and talk of a co-operation agreement – and even of a Labour-ACT coalition – had meant Labour was no-longer the root of all evil, she was sorely mistaken. In the second press release from Hide, he “labelled” Clark “out of touch with the problems that confront New Zealand”. Ouch. No praise, no “good, but not good enough” – even though Clark’s policy announcement was very similar to Key’s. Instead, he attacked the policy, claiming “making [would be school dropouts] stay in school until they’re 18 will do nothing to address the problem [youth crime]”.

I think the difference in ACT’s reception to the two speeches is part of a growing realisation from Hide over the summer that the party needs to find a mutual understanding with National, and that Labour cannot be trusted under any circumstances. The strong disapproval from members to the idea of ACT co-operating with Labour last winter is no doubt also playing a role. His hostility to Labour over the Electoral Finance Bill/Act was the beginning.

A coalition deal with National in November could be the end.

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