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).
Some breaking news for ACT watchers:
Overnight on Monday, ACT has sent out an e-mail promoting a new “pledge card”. The text also appears on the homepage of the party website. On clicking the link one is taken to a PDF with a “20 point plan” of what policy measures ACT supports. There we also see a new party logo – ACT’s fourth since launching as a political party in 1994. The 2008 version dispenses with the blue-green mix in place since 1996, replacing it with a solid sky-blue colour, while retaining the tick device in the yellow colour which it has been since 2003. The new logo includes the slogan debated at some length at the conference in March – “The Guts To Do What’s Right”.
The pledge card is classic ACT – lengthy discussion giving reasons why its policies are needed in New Zealand. Not only that, each policy is accompanied with calculations claiming how much growth it would stimulate and by how many dollars each New Zealander would, on average, be better off for it.
In short: it’s the 2008 revised and condensed edition of Douglas’s 1993 book Unfinished Business.
As an example, the ACT policy for health as set out in the pledge card is the following:
ACT Policy: Create competitive market.
Countries where similar policy works well: Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Germany,
Benefit: Hospitals cure more patients, sooner. (State gives health policies to all. Patients choose hospitals. Doctors, not bureaucrats, drive healthcare.)
Boosts NZ annual growth by… 1/4%
Boosts NZ average weekly pay by…$25.00
My first observations of today’s news are the following:
- This has all the hallmarks of Sir Roger Douglas – no shortage of policy detail and solutions all tied up in a grandiose step-by-step plan.
- But barring the new slogan, few genuinely saleable messages needed for sound-bites to get VOTES – the prerequisite for implementing even one of the 20 points.
- If this is sent out as a mail drop (and presumably it will be), who will take the time to read the fine print?
- The new slogan “The Guts To Do What’s Right” is undoubtedly an improvement than the previous one (“The Liberal Party”, which confused the few who noticed it), but even so, its merits are contested by even members themselves, mainly due to the view that it will be seen as too harsh.
- Back to 1996 and the return of “mentors” who will “teach parenting and life skills” – a Douglas idea from the party’s inaugural election manifesto “Values. Not Politics”.
But the most significant point builds upon my last post. ACT clearly has a death wish. A referendum on MMP and the reduction of MPs to 100 are included amongst the pledges. We know that figures in ACT have always had a reluctant attitude to MMP. Party strategist Brian Nicolle and other ACT figures like Peter Shirtcliffe actively campaigned against it in 1993. Douglas has never believed it is conducive to the “big-picture” changes he thinks New Zealand needs and started ACT with the aim of it replacing National as the major centre-right party.
I have always considered the party’s history with MMP somewhat ironic, but thought that ACT figures had long since decided that their best option was to “grin and bear it” and work within the system now in place as a “truly independent MMP party” (according to party president Garry Mallett in 2007). Searching through ACT manifestos from 1996-2005 which are included as appendices in my dissertation, I did not find a single reference to MMP apart from a desire to abolish the Maori seats, included in the manifestos for 2002 and 2005.
The reason for shutting up about MMP was obvious: campaigning to review the system of proportional representation which put ACT in Parliament makes as much sense as turkeys voting to have Christmas twice a year. So the idea of ACT explicitly wanting to debate the future of MMP is unprecedented.
Does it make sense? Here’s a conundrum to think about: let’s say ACT boosted the number of MPs to its target of 7 or 8 this year (an unlikely scenario on present polling). After getting Douglas elected as Minister of Finance (another unlikely scenario), would it really, seriously campaign to vote itself out of existence at the next election by supporting John Key’s referendum on MMP?