Act Leader David Seymour joins political reporter Jason Walls for a beer at the iconic Backbencher pub discussing his future, his past and, of course, Dancing with the Stars

Act Leader David Seymour joins political reporter Jason Walls for a beer at the iconic Backbencher pub discussing his future, his past and, of course, Dancing with the Stars

By Jason Walls

With teenage boys, it’s always about either girls or cars.

Often, it seems as if there is little else that matters and young men inevitably end up falling in love with at least one of those things.

For Act Leader David Seymour, it was the latter.

But for most teenagers, a yearning for an expensive car does not manifest into a strongly-held libertarian ideology.  

It did for Seymour.

“When I was a teenager, I was very concerned that the world was finite and violent,” he tells me, sitting in a table at the famous Backbencher pub across the road from Parliament.

“I was concerned that I wanted a Ferrari but if I wanted to acquire one, it would either be at the expense of other people, or the environment.”

This is, as he puts it, at the heart of any libertarian belief – a belief his Act Party holds at the core of its foundations.

“It’s a belief that if you’re not harming anything else, then you should be able to do whatever you like.”

If you were to plot Act on the political spectrum, it would easily be the most right-wing party in New Zealand's Parliament.

It’s because of that it often surprises some that the party was born out of Labour, back in the early 90s.

But when you look closer, it makes a bit more sense.

Act, or the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers as it was originally known, was founded by former Finance Minister Roger Douglas – the architect of the biggest economic reforms in New Zealand’s modern history.

So significant were the changes, they earned the unofficial, but better known, title of Rogernomics.

The market-led restructuring and deregulation of New Zealand is held up as the gold standard of political policy by most Act supporters.

In 1996, Act – led by former Labour MP Richard Prebble – won 6.1% of the total vote, bringing eight MPs into Parliament. That number climbed to 7% in 2002.

Since then, however, Act’s share of the vote has collapsed. Last year, the Party won just 0.5% of the total vote.

How did this happen?

“Basically, because we have been too dispersed in our brand, identity and purpose,” Seymour says.

This makes sense when looking at the long list of Act Party policies and the fact that Seymour has a take on everything.

It’s because of this, he got a lot of airtime and column inches before the last election. He’s good for a soundbite and you always know where he stands on an issue.

Basically, if it’s something that involves more Government it’s bad and he has no qualms outlining those concerns to media.

Despite this, in 2017 he led his party to the worst election loss in its history.

So, it’s time for a reset, Seymour says.

“We have reached the stage where we have tried to court different markets and we have left ourselves without a specific group of people who believe that we represent them. That’s a rookie error.

“We’re going to relaunch Act as a party with a new, clarified identity and purpose.”

That refresh is still underway but there is one area where he has hinted change may be on the way – Epsom.

The electorate is the party’s stronghold and winning the seat is the only reason it has remained in Parliament for the last eight years.

Seymour has held the seat since 2014. Before him, John Banks, and Rodney Hide held.

Act has held the seat thanks to a deal with National, who essentially tell their supporters to vote for Act so the right-bloc will have a better showing in Parliament.

But Seymour is mulling a change in strategy.

“What about Epsom,” I ask him, as we’re brought another round of beers. “Would it be a good idea for you to tell National you’re not looking for a deal, that you’re looking to do it on your own?”

He takes a gulp and pauses a beat.

“That’s a possible strategy,” he says. “We could explicitly say that we do not wish to be endorsed.”

But he is distracted by another issue.

Cloak and dagger politics

The night before, a story about how National were looking to cut ties with Act in Epsom led one of the TV news bulletins.

The story cited “grumblings” within the National caucus about the deal. Its leader, Simon Bridges, would not give a straight answer, saying only “you’ll just have to wait and see.”

Seymour has a theory about where these “grumblings” were coming from.

“Potentially, they are anti-euthanasia people [within the National Party.]

Act has a members’ bill before Parliament which would give people with a terminal illness or irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying.

It is highly controversial and has attracted a record number of submissions.

Some of the staunchest opponents of the bill come from within National.

“Someone from the caucus is going out and talking to the media, providing stories that the leader then has to respond to. It’s quite extraordinary,” Seymour says.

But, he’s not deterred. If the bill becomes law, it will be one of the biggest wins for Act in its history.

Will it be enough for his party to win back some support? He does not think so.

“This issue does not seem to shift votes.”

He gives the example of the same-sex marriage bill becoming law in 2013.

“Look at Louisa Wall, the Labour MP who was in charge of the bill, it has done nothing for her political career.”

Dancing with the Stars

Some 39 minutes into our 45-minute interview, we finally got to the real news – Dancing with the Stars.

Seymour is a contestant on the show and has yet to be voted off.

“It’s been a hugely positive thing for me to do,” he says. “I think all MPs face a risk of institutionalisation.”

He says being on the show helps to avoid that risk – “or at least ameliorate it.”

Does he have what it takes to win? He thinks so.

But if not, he’s happy just for the experience.

“I think if I succeed for another few terms,” he says, before correcting himself to say “rounds” (we’re just two beers deep), “that can only be a positive thing.”

He’s not the first Act MP to put on his dancing shoes and compete on the show.

In 2006, Rodney Hide was a contestant – he was eliminated after dropping his partner.

“Did you ask Rodney about going on the show,” I asked, as I drained the last of my beer.

“I haven’t talked to Rodney about it,” he says after meeting me at the bottom of the glass.

“He might have told me not to do it!”

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John Donne nailed the falsehood of Libertarianism 400 years ago ("No man is an island ...")

Virtually everything a person does has consequences for others.

Seymour seems to be a nice bloke, but Libertarians are either selfish or deluded.

Wanting people to have as much liberty in and freedom over their own lives is selfish? The arrogance to think you know better then anyone else about how they should live is astounding.

More delusional than selfish, in fairness. As mlpc highlights, libertarianism is utopian because it's simply impractical and unrealistic.

There's nothing wrong with the sentiment, and there's nothing wrong with the ideas influencing policy - but with as much a dose of practicality as other philsophies are given.

I don't think aspiring for more individual freedom is delusional, impractical or unrealistic. History has generally shown the more intervention from governments the more negative consequences there are.

The definition of Utopian - "modelled on or aiming for a state in which everything is perfect; idealistic." Libertarianism is for more individual freedom not a societal perfection. As far as I can see Libertarianism is incompatible with the description of Utopian. (not that a Utopia could ever exist anway)

Aspiring for individual freedom is not delusional. You can, for instance, wander into the woods and live freely by abandoning any obligation to society and forsaking any benefit from society. But trying to create a society on Libertarian grounds - at least, much more than a cursory hat-tip - is just as Utopian as communism.

As you note, Libertarianism works well for individuals but not so much for organising a society. Competing individuals looking to exercise their freedoms, and proclaiming what those freedoms should and should not be, will soon put paid to that. Inevitably - as soon as one begins to need services and infrastructure that many must contribute to - one's Libertarian ideals quickly dilute to suit one's desires.

Exceptions arise, thoughts of obligations for others in some cases, desires to be free to enjoy rights without responsibilities, profits without risks...

Hi Rick, when I said more freedom I don’t mean living in isolation, there is no reason we can’t have more freedom within the society we currently live. Remembering that Libertarianism is for limited government not no government (protecting life and liberty), it’s a really good way to organise a society.

Also, I would say there is more responsibility with libertarianism than socialism as you bear the consequences of your own actions more unless there is cronyism which is a problem for any ideology.

Yeah, I'm not against libertarian aspirations - simply noting the impracticality in society, including as you note via the inevitable encroachment of cronyism. The fights become about whose freedom matters more - e.g. property rights and NIMBYism. You seek to limit other people's freedom when you believe it interferes with the freedoms you are entitled to.

In the end we swing about the centre because nothing too far to any extreme seems to work with any stability.

To debate over more specifics - cronyism isn’t libertarian or socialist, it can infect any ideology. I also wouldn’t say it’s an inevitable outcome, yes people will try it but this is an area I see government combatting as it encroaches on everyone’s liberty.

I wouldn’t say I want to limit others freedom? I definitely understand there will be different interpretations of what that means but that just means as a society we discuss it and come to an acceptable definition which is then evenly applied. Part of being libitarian is protecting liberty, yours and others.

And thanks for the debate, regardless of how delusional I may be ;)

Sorry, mate, delusional is a bit harsh. My personal opinion is we end up fairly centrist most often when we have a measure of freedom because the political and social extremes are too unstable to exist for long - at least without a massive imposition of power (which reduces freedom anyway).

Agree cronyism will infect any ideology, hence - combined with the above - my argument that Libertarianism is great as an individual ideal but Utopian at a social level.

As you say, when we find clashing ideas of freedom - e.g. your neighbour's freedom to develop her land vs. your freedom to enjoy an unobstructed view across her land - we create regulations (limits on personal freedom) based on compromise. We create more and more of these as we decide we need them...and often in favour of those who have the most ability to influence the regulators.

And end up back with a pretty non-Libertarian society.

Libertariansim isn’t utopian in any way shape or form and again no one is saying it is? It is an effective way to organise societies as it tends towards a meritocracy.

“Agree cronyism will infect any ideology, hence - combined with the above - my argument that Libertarianism is great as an individual ideal but Utopian at a social level.” By that logic every ideology is useless?

For your final point, regulations would be looked at through the lens of liberty. I doubt a blocked view would trump being able to develope land you’ve bought. We would end up with a much lower level of regulation overall (which is a big part of our current housing issue).

We end up in the center politically not based on what works but that’s what’s most palitable for varying viewpoints.

We end up in the center politically not based on what works but that’s what’s most palitable for varying viewpoints.

Basically my point. We will end up there anyway with sufficient freedom so is it worth the both of pretending we can end up at full Libertarianism? In my opinion, not worth much more effort than pretending Communism can ever exist on more than a kibbutzian scale, at most.

I can't really address your first sentence as we'd end up in an endless round of "Yeah, but it'd be great, you see" followed by me saying "Yeah, but it can't ever happen, you see", and it wouldn't be that much fun unless we'd had enough beers for it to be hilarious, passionate and full of inept, ineffective, red-faced High Street fisticuffs followed by a conciliatory single malt poured neat, of course. Would not be the worst, less entertaining mistake to confuse Libertine with Libertarian, in fairness.

If Libertarianism would result in less NIMBYism I'd sign up right now.

I guess I’m discussing it particularly because I would like more freedom and while it’s doubtful that will happen in the short term it could over a longer timeframe.

Would Drambuie suffice? :)

If you want less Nimbyism check out Houston who has a much more “libertarian” housing regulations/zoning:
Can I sign you up now?

Libertarianism + do unto others etc = the ideal. Con - human nature will wreck that every time, thus we need laws to try to ensure we do unto others etc, = bye bye libertarianism.

libertarians (more or less) view governments role as protecting life and liberty and the laws are set around that. Why do you equate laws with bye bye libertarianism? Are you mistaking it for anarchy?

It isnt delusional either as you have admitted lower down in the comment thread.The real question is what is a libertarian? What do they believe? Just like a "progressive" and "conservative" There is a huge amount of different ideas underneath the umbrella. Would you call progressives and conservatives as a group delusional and selfish? The name calling is not only incorrect but just a way to palm off valid ideas instead of looking at specifics.

The name calling is not only incorrect but just a way to palm off valid ideas instead of looking at specifics.

That's already proven to be incorrect as right above your comment there is a discussion we've had over specifics.

Mate you're delusional could always read the discussion of specifics rather than pretending it doesn't exist. liberty to.

consequences is not the same thing as harm. he clearly said the philosophy is that as long as you do no harm to others you can do what you want. he did not say there are no consequences of your actions.

maybe if you actually address what he said, instead of trying to conflate harm with consequences, you'd have a point. as it stands you clearly don't

To do that we would need to define the difference between "harm" and negative consequences. At what point does something cease being a negative consequence and become harm?

Wouldn’t it be whether you’ve harmed yourself or another as the issue here? You harming yourself through your own actions ok, you harming someone else not ok.

So any negative consequences that fall on someone else meets the definition of harm? So me building a three storey house that casts shade on your is harm is it?

The example of building a house, no. There would be a much higher bar for “emotional” harm where malicious intent would need to be proved.

On a side note, check out Houston’s housing situation. Practically no regulations, Massive apartments by single story houses. This leads to some strange situations but no housing crises. Not ideal but it allows for better use of land.

Ah, intent, which is of course impossible to prove. I didn't mean to ruin my neighbours life, I just wanted to raise a few hundred chickens to sell so built a chicken barn right next to his driveway. I meant no harm.

Withay is a bit of a zealot with unrealistic expectations of people's sense of fairness.

Yes I do argue over and above where I actually stand sometimes especially when confronted by borderline strawman arguments as above. Just trying to bring balance as I find a lot of people can’t/don’t bother to see things outside a narrow viewpoint often mis described as being “practical.”

Pragmatist, rather than going to the extreme/strawman why not look at real life examples and pull from there. I linked an article about Houston’s housing looking at the pros and cons in another comment but here it is again:
I’d love to know your genuine thoughts on that rather than what you’ve said?

I have nothing against saner urban planning than what Auckland has, but I don't see that as anything to do with big L libertarianism.

Libertarianism is for smaller government and less reglation (not no regulation before someone jumps on that), over regulation is a big problem currently. Thats what it has to do with it, am I missing something?

Well, that very different to what libertarians I have encountered before have said.
They wanted:
No regulation (building regulations, nope, can build whatever you want and it up to others to do due diligence before they enter the building/buy the bulding )
No govt owned property (except courts/jails and police/defence force assets) (ie, all road should be privately owned and whatever the owner wants are the rules the apply, and can toll drivers to pay for it)
No taxes at all.

Ie anarchy, but with civil law contracts that the police force would enforce.

Sounds more like you version of libertarianism is just right wing politics ie US republicians without the crazy religious crapola.

ETA: here is the typical libertarian position spelled out clearly: I like how he call ACT the "Association of Compulsion Touters"

Haha that was a great read thanks and while there are many things I agree with, certain things are a bridge too far in this current time. That being said, what I’m partly trying to achieve is convincing others that there are benefits to going a little more libitarian that are overlooked or misunderstood. For example am I right to assume you agree with less (not no) regulations for Auckland housing?

I also see bigger government as an addiction, the bigger it is the more we lose our ability to deal with issues ourselves which is sad. In all the housing examples I bet no one considered the possibility that neighbours could get together and come to an acceptable solution without outside intervention?

Certainly different regulation, probably less. And yes, neighbours can negotiate and reach agreement, but its also very common for them to argue and never reach agreement... then what?

If the complaint p is deemed valid it does go to some sort of dispute resolution where a decision is made, precedent set which will form the understanding of how similar future disagreements are to be resolved moving forward.

And then the precedent is turned into a planning rule/regulation/law.. basically, this is how we've ended up where we are, things go wrong, courts resolve the issue, or govts set minimum standards and soon enough you end up with regulations, to prevent the same thing going thru the courts thousands of times because everyone can dream up a reason why their case is different and the precident doesn't apply. Or they think they have the resources to financially ruin their neighbour...

Sorry, but I flirted with the idea of libertarianism years ago, and on shallow inspection its fantastic, but once you factor in real world human behaviour, it all turns to poo.

I just killed an hour of my workday with the US libertarian presidential candidate debate from 2016 on the headphones while doing other things. Are you sure you want to align with those clowns?

Thanks for the link, I’ll watch it tonight. Regarding regulation creation, if it’s created using a libitarian lense it will be different to what we have now. If we as a society lean more that way we would make different decisions.
We need to stop thinking that regulations would end up being the same. Yes there would be regulation but a more libertarian version like Houston’s housing for example.
If your logic was extrapolated, every piece of law would end up the same around the world but different views create different laws

Oh and please remember, a slur is not an arguement.

The Ad Hominem Fallacy: How People Use Personal Attacks to Win Arguments. An ad hominem argument is an argument that attacks a person directly, rather than addressing the point that the person is trying to make.

And George Orwell nailed where socialism can end up with his novel 1984, after taking a look at Jospeh Stalin's Russia. Libertarianism is not about anarchy, rather a smaller and less intrusive government. i don't find libertarianism appealing when taken to the extreme, but there is plenty of room to run in New Zealand before you start bumping against that boundary.

It's worthwhile reading much more George Orwell than just 1984. He was a voice promoting socialist ideas, even while he was skewering the communists for what they were doing.

His writing is useful in that it moves people beyond the juvenile use of labels like "communist" as we see leveled at Jacinda Ardern (for example) and actually invites people to critically engage.

Libertarianism is a quasi-fascist belief system,a sort of individualist fascism. They refuse to acknowledge that just by being awesome you are harming other people. This is something I struggle with every day. I haven't found an answer.

Hi Zachary. Apologies if my sense of homour is off but is "They refuse to acknowledge that just by being awesome you are harming other people" sarcasm?

Hi Withay. I'm not really being sarcastic. I think most Libertarians have inherited something that others have not.

Ok then, libitarianism cant be fascist. Those terms are practically polar opposites.
Awesome people are great, they create and invent things which improve our lives greatly, how is that harming others?
I think it’s more a sense of fairness that’s inherited. If I didn’t earn something I don’t really deserve it.

Withay, this is how I view it. As it stands now Libertarianism is very much a minority opinion held mostly by privileged, well off, White males. There are very few women, minorities and alternative lifestylers in the movement.

This group is extremely accomplished, paying the most taxes, committing the fewest crimes and generally being awesome. It must be admitted however that this group didn't just start from scratch, a blank sheet, but emerged from a milieu created by a long history of feudalism and Imperialism. Currently they have many enemies champing at the bit for their total destruction, eager for payback.

Libertarians believe they can counter this threat with reasoned discourse and completely ignore the fact of their historical good fortune.

To some extent this can work but compromises need to be made. The horde needs to be either paid off with a degree of welfare, placated with affirmative action or suppressed with violence. Think of these as tools in our tool box in our quest for the establishment of a perfect society.

If you can truly see the 'big picture' then you realize that fascists and libertarians are brothers in arms. The Libertarian can sleep comfortably at night in his exclusive suburb secure in the knowledge that rough men are ready to do violence on his behalf and clever men are carefully letting the steam out of the pressure cooker of social inequality. Discipline and socialism are necessary in a well functioning society.

Postscript: It occurs to me that standing between the fascists and the libertarian but linking arms is the bureaucracy, the yes minister types, the deep state, keeping everything on an even keel. If the libertarians get too strong there will be a violent revolution and if the fascists get too strong they'll be invading Poland or something.

wow, just wow...

Very interesting reading. To the main point, libitarians and fascists are not brothers in arms. One seeks freedom and autonomy for themselves and others while the other seeks absolute control.

I don’t think the idea to pay the horde off is libitarian at all, that’s more social justice-esque as is the “historical injustice” line which leads me to think you’ve got the core of the ideology mixed up with others in creating this narrative?

'Fascism' doesn't mean 'ideology I don't like'.

The more people like you use it that way the more meaningless the term will become. For an example, see 'racism' - which has half the sting it had 10 years ago.


This is an interesting thread and I would like to contribute to it. The term Social Democrat is well known and used in Western Europe,but not here. I would describe myself as one. Let me quote from Tony Judt's Ill fares The land" "Social Democrats on the other hand,are something of a hybrid.They share with Liberals a commitment to cultural and religious tolerance,but in public policy,they believe in the possibility and virtue of collective action for the collective good.Like most Liberals,social democrats favour progressive taxation in order to pay for public services and other social goods that individuals cannot provide for themselves."
That puts me somewhere on the left of the political spectrum,but I have no difficulty in making room for business,for enterprise and for entrepreneurs. Indeed,as a society,we have to earn sufficient to pay for all the things we want;comprehensive healthcare,education,welfare,infrastructure and so on.
As always,the balancing act is difficult and will never give us a perfect society.
In short,i prefer the Nordic model to the American model.

Definitely an interesting thread (hence why I’ve wasted a lot of my day commenting). Definitely understand your conclusion however I would query the long term viability of it. Nordic nations are mostly using money that comes from oil or companies and industries that came about during periods of low/deregulation. By perusing there “social democratic” ideas they are sucking money away from development. Killing the goose to get the eggs so to speak.

“Like most Liberals,social democrats favour progressive taxation” - I think most liberals are for a flat tax or no tax at all.


I don't agree. Northern European countries had adopted the Social Democracy model pre oil. Also,you are really talking about Norway now and they have created a sovereign wealth fund,one of the world's largest,to deal with the post oil world. Sweden and Denmark are different.

Hi Linklater, what I’m getting at is socialism/social democracy is the benifactor not the originator of the wealth it needs to be viable. We tend to look at scandi countries with rose tinted glasses as they are going through a period of “spending” so to speak. This doesn’t mean they can do that in perpetuity and I don’t think it’s a good system to follow.

What I am mostly interested in is at what level do social services become too burdensome and outright counterproductive. Regarding Sweden and Denmark being different, I don’t think so. They have been growing very slowly and their big innovative companies (Ericsson comes to mind) all came about in periods of deregulation and lower social spending. There’s not much on the horizon for them as far as I can see?

The problem is libertarians generally want to get rid of the parts of government that they themselves don't see themselves benefiting from, but want to keep the parts of govt that they are benefiting from...

Try build another story on your house next to a libertarian, and then hear what their real views are on private property rights and council red tape.

Hah...true. The practical nature of Libertarianism being all too often not so far from NIMBYism. My liberty over yours.

A hopefully interesting contribution by Noam Chomsky discussing Anarchism v Libertarianism:

Euthanasia is anti Māori

okay, i'll bite. How is allowing people with untreatable terminal conditions the choice of dying in dignity at a time of their choosing rather than in discomfort/pain later on "anti-Maori"?

It is my understanding that euthanasia is not considered dignified, in te ao Māori. Māori that have spoken to me consider the lives of their kaumātua to be tapu, and as such, to be protected from yet another tool of destruction emanating from Europe.
From my perspective, this makes sense, as Māori have very strong oral traditions which should be protected from loss. That, plus Māori are plagued with lower life expectancy and so it would seem unethical to introduce euthanasia without first addressing the causes of lower life expectancy.

That is a great argument, well, it would be if we were considering making it compulsory.

Ah, the religious argument. The answer is simple, if its against your superstition, don't do it. But I don't feel you have the right to deny it to those that want it. Its not something we would inflict on the family dog, a long drawn out death, but for some reason some people insist that we should inflict it on humans that have declared they don't wish to suffer.

Religion whatever. The Dutch regard it as a failed experiment in the Netherlands. They really regret introducing it there because it destroyed families and got used in situations where it was uncontrolled and underregulated, with serious consequences. It's like nuclear radiation, once it gets inside a country you can't get rid of it. It has severely negative societal ramifications, and it is simply not an appropriate cultural fit for Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Failed experiment”? Not my understanding. In fact, there are plans to expand on it: the right to choose when you’ve had enough of being alive, even when not seriously ill. “Completion of life” (or something)...

You are welcome to your opinion, but I totally reject the idea that forcing someone to suffer a long slow painful or humiliating death when they have expressed the wish to end their own life is anything other than barbaric.

It is also sexist.

Thats makes even less sense than Jock Silvers case. Its voluntary.. not compulsory.

No. I respectfully refute your assertion that it is voluntary. It will instead create negatively transformative pressures on NZ society and elders may find themselves abused into opting for it.

It's also anti-semetic.

LOL sorry couldn't keep a straight face.

Enjoy your time today as our freedoms are disappearing quicker than you think. Even quicker when Mr Xi gets his way.

Did you not get the memo Long John Martin? Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength!
With freedom your are like a leaf in the wind, subject to unhealthy influences and likely a victim of "fake news".