Roger returns (part I): how the story unfolded

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).

He’s back.

If you’re reading this blog you have probably already read that Sir Roger Douglas, co-founder of ACT New Zealand (with Derek Quigley), is returning to the party fold by giving a speech to the Annual Conference on March 15. In this post, I look at how the story unfolded, while in subsequent posts I will discuss the implications and the conference itself.

First, I want to acknowledge the several messages I’ve received wondering where my analysis of the story is. I’m a little annoyed with myself, as I had already my suspicions that Douglas would turn out to be the “mystery speaker” at the conference, but lack of time meant I didn’t get around to doing a blog post. Indeed, there were a few clues. On Friday, the ACTion party member newsletter about several low-key party events at which Douglas would be present. First, an ACT Waikato fundraiser at the house of party stalwart Vince Ashworth:

Join the Ashworth’s for Lamb-on-the-spit, BYO salads, cash refreshment bar, auction, quickfire raffles. Rodney, Heather & Garry will be present. Sir Roger and Catherine Judd are hoping to attend. [Emphasis added].

Even more blatant was the news of a “Roger Douglas Dinner” to raise funds for ACT in the Bay of Plenty:

Dinner with Sir Roger Douglas

Where: Tauranga Club
When: 18 March 2008
Time: 7 pm Cash bar available

Sir Roger Douglas is coming to Tauranga to launch the election campaigns of the candidates standing for ACT in Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.
He will be speaking after dinner at the Tauranga Club on 18 March.

While a speech might seem fairly innocuous, given the bad blood between Douglas and the party since at least 2004 (and with enough troubles before that), it seemed surprising. Moreover, the fact that Douglas was to launch the bids of ACT candidates suggested that Douglas was going to take a hands-on role in the election campaign.

The final signal arrived in my letterbox on Tuesday, when I received information about the ACT conference on March 15/16. The accompanying letter was signed by both Hide and Douglas. One of the points in the letter sounded like a compromise with Douglas. Since 2005, Hide had suggested that ACT could coalesce with Labour as well as National. But talk of a “co-operation agreement” with Labour last July was savaged by Douglas, who called the idea of ACT supporting Labour to support the (now moribund) Therapeutic Medicines Bill a joke:

Sir Roger said Act could talk to anybody it liked.”But this is a Government of control freaks and there’s not much point in talking to control freaks. I can’t see that there’s any common ground.”

In the conference letter sent to members, Hide and Douglas suggested that ACT should promote policies “unable to be ruled out ahead of the election by National and, ideally, Labour, but not something they would do without ACT” [emphasis added]. This would appear to be a shift from Hide’s aim of being the balance of power, equally willing to coalesce with centre-left Labour as with the traditional coalition partner National. This sounded to me as if Hide had agreed with Douglas to adopt a more indifferent, rather than accommodating, stance towards Labour. “If Labour likes what we say, fine, but we’re not going to go out of our way”.

Finally, 3 News ran the story first last night, with a report giving more details also in the New Zealand Herald today (it looks like they were working on the story at the same time). Hide noted the reports on his recently rejuvenated blog, while a post on Kiwiblog also appeared this morning. I don’t monitor all the blogs, but I also found Peter McCaffrey of ACT on Campus also had a post about the story. I’d appreciate it if readers would let me know of any other coverage of the story I might have missed.

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