Here's my politico-economic blogroll for the week. Just the left and right this week due to political happenings, there's a lot out there on one particular topic...(sorry economics bloggers, you'll be back in next week).
No surprises the blogroll's focusing on the takeover of ACT by former National leader and RBNZ Governor Don Brash. We've been following Brash's resurgence for months on this blogroll, and I can remember asking a few times why had he not just thrown his lot in with ACT. It happened a bit differently to how I thought it would pan out, but he's there now.
Brash, who is quite probably the only person to have controlled NZ monetary policy while thinking up a path for becoming PM, was always an ACT man.
But his desire to be in the top job meant ACT had to settle for him being their man in National. Well he's in charge of ACT now, something he possibly should have agreed to in 2002.
From the right
1. Will Don take votes off Winston, and is Banks a good fit for ACT? David Farrar at Kiwiblog says Rodney Hide has had a greater and more beneficial impact in Parliament than most MPs.
While I have said previously that I’m not sure how good a fit John Banks is to ACT, there is considerable logic to having a candidate in the seat who will clearly win it for ACT. If they look guaranteed to win the seat, then they can campaign that voting for ACT is not a wasted vote, and that the more people who vote for them the more influence they will have on policy.
It is possible a Brash led ACT will also make it harder for Winston Peters to get traction (which is of course a good thing). Winston planned to campaign hard on the foreshore & seabed issue, but a Brash led ACT may be more effective in appealing to the coastal coaltion supporters.
Where NZ First, and Labour and Greens, will attack is on economic policy – especially wages, asset sales and superannuation. Goff is already suggesting that it was a cunning National plot to have Don roll Rodney (which is hysterically untrue).
The reality is that Don and Rodney are near identical minds on economic policy. What will determine their influence on Government is not so much who the leader is, but how many seats they win. At 10 seats you roughly expect twice the influence of 5 seats.
2. Brash's first job should be cut everyone except Boscawen, while Banks is just awful. Cactus Kate says she has double-ticked ACT at every election since 1996. Hide was a personal friend of hers, but she doesn't seem to be holding grudges against Brash, and says she'll continue to support ACT.
But she doesn't understand why John Banks is being brought in to the play. She has a few tips for Brash as he starts out.
Don Brash's first job is to clean out the Party of anyone who comes with coup baggage. Slit the throats of every MP, staffer and Party worker who has undermined his predecessor and build a new team of people around him. I would hazard a guess all of these will come from outside ACT because ACT is far too factioned. And I doubt any of Hide's team will want to stay on to assist what is effectively a National take-over of ACT.
That's right, the Party was taken over by Brash, a Nat and his mostly National supporters because ACT people couldn't collectively keep their shit together and stop infighting. I thought it would be a cold day in hell before Douglas passed the parcel to a true Nat. But there you go.
Brash should keep the one loyal MP in Boscawen and cut out the Roy/Ewing-Jarvie /hangers on cancer from the Party. Because that's what it is, a terminal festering stage IV cancer capable of doing Brash mortal damage at a future date. As for the woman who let down the sisterhood and true to form changed her mind? Yep....off Dear Hillary goes as well. Weakest dithering link.
Brash should then seek three top drawer candidates for ACT to make a strong team of six first rate potential MP's.
Here is where I will differ from I suspect his viewpoint and state this does NOT under ANY circumstances include John Banks. Brash needs three list candidates without the baggage Banks brings. Banks is just awful. He makes you want to consider voting Len Brown. Two time losing Mayoral candidate Banks is political desperation at its finest. He's horrible and awkward, moreso around women. I am extremely tolerant of male idiosyncrasy and even I find Banks the pits. His political philosophy isn't even close to ACT's. He's toyed once with ACT and didn't have the metal. Banks would be a Shakespearian re-run of the return of Douglas.
The liberal members of the party have already left the party, taking with them the founding principles while the new members, all coming from National, are looking for a new, centre right, hungry, economically sound and principled outsider to come rescue the party from political oblivion.
Rodney, fresh from completing the London marathon, author of several acclaimed books and of TV fame as a political pundit looks down to his ringing phone, has a chuckle before turning off his phone and enjoying life.
4. National will still have to pander to the centre. Homepaddock notes National won't go too far right, even with the Brash factor, because pleasing centrist voters is more important.
A party which wants to stay in power needs the support of its own members and supporters but under MMP that’s not enough, it needs the support of swinging voters and most of those are in or near the centre.
That’s something parties towards the far ends of the political spectrum and their supporters don’t seem to realise. They are convinced of their positions but they can never persuade many others to join them there.
If either Harawira or Brash and their parties are in a position to exert influence on or in the government after the election they will get some concessions, but that’s all.
Both bigger parties would lose too much from the centre if they went too far to accommodate coalition or support partners on the extremes.
Labour and Peter Dunne are already trying to use the spectre of a Brash-led Act party pulling National to the hard right but that ploy can be used against them.
What would most voters rather have – a Labour,Maori Party, Green, NZ First, Dunne and maybe Harawira hodge-podge or National strong enough to stand its ground if its coalition partners pull too far?
5. What the Brash take-over shows us about MMP politics. Ex-ACT MP Stephen Franks says Brash's hostile takeover of ACT shows how MMP is evolving. Open debate over ideas must now be carried out between different parties, Franks says, instead of inside parties. He could be right, but I can't help remember a few National MPs publicly standing down (or being pushed) from spokespeople positions after not agreeing with Brash on certain issues when he was leader of the National Party.
The credence of the Brash challenge is tacit recognition of inter-party competition as the replacement for the competition of ideas we formerly gained from debate among party factions. We no longer expect open policy debate within parties. It may be MMP or it may be the reflection of an impoverished media.
Whatever the reason open debate over ideas must now be across the safe insulation of party boundaries.
Without any formalised internal party 'faction' system neither National nor Labour have a hygenic mechanism for internal dissent over policy. I posted earlier this month on this problem for Phil Goff''s Labour.
Parties can not risk allowing humble members to impose policy discipline on their MPs. Political journalism is now pre-occupied with the mechanics of leadership, not ideas. Permitting obvious internal debate is interpreted as a failure of political management. It is reported only as division, disunity, and loss of authority to govern.
From the left
Oh how the left were quick to jump into the fray once Brash rolled Hide. They haven't had many sunny days lately, but they'll be out soaking up this one.
6. Peter Dunne really is the Groucho Marx of New Zealand politics. Peter Dunne was the first from Parliament to fire out a release attacking Brash and telling people to vote for him instead.
Get this, the ACT press conference began at midday, it took a few minutes for the news to get out that Hide had stepped down, and Dunne had released a 200 word statement by 12:06. Forward planning anyone?
Anyway, Labour MP Grant Robertson couldn't help but remember a certain publicity shot during the 2005 coalition talks between...Dunne and Brash.
But could this be the same Peter Dunne who in 2005 was part of a slightly odd photo opportunity, that “cleared the way” for a coalition between Mr Dunne’s United Future Party and the Dr Brash led National Party. Surely not.
Alas yes. Peter Dunne really is the Groucho Marx of NZ Politics. ” Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, well, I have others.”
PS If you want to see the coffee date in action, it is in part four of the Hollow Men documentary, which you can find here
7. Nightmare scenario for the left would be if Brash doesn't scare away centre voters. But there's also now a better chance of the left squeaking in. Rob at The Standard looks at the scenarios faced by the left now Brash has taken over at ACT. This move will have Winston Peters (and therefore Labour) running scared. He is a potential coalition partner for a Labour-led government following the November 26 election, but Brash may put a dent in his voter base now.
The nightmare scenario for the Left is that Brash reanimates the corpse of ACT without scaring the centrist voters. If ACT builds on its current loony right base and hoovers up the racist vote as well (goodbye Winston?), and if National continues to do really well at pretending to be centrist, the two combined could dominate the election. The Left might be looking at an awful result. Good luck, New Zealand, if that comes to pass!
The dream scenario for the left is if Brash manages to scare the centre. The prospect of a Key government shackled to Brash and ACT after the 2011 election is hardly an attractive one. Brash, let us recall, resigned in disgrace after his odious tactics in the 2005 election were made public inThe Hollow Men. Since then he has been leading a “taskforce” on the economy with ideas so whacky that even the Nats are ignoring them out of hand. The public might (inexplicably!) love the Key brand, but how are they going to feel about BrashKey? An invigorated Left might just squeak in.
In either case look for National to start running the line that Labour voters should switch to National, give it a mandate to govern alone, just to keep ACT’s influence minimal. Of course the Nats wouldn’t mind a bit working with ACT, to give them cover for their true Right agenda. But if they think that they can prise loose some sucker Labour votes with this meme then they will certainly try.
8. Could the Brash-brand mean National will now lose the election? Rob Carr at Political Dumpground wonders whether there will be a public reaction against a government which may include a strong hard-right.
In terms of what the party should now do for survival they probably couldn't do better than the advice of Cactus Kate a long time ACT supporter. For ACT to survive they need to build a team where leaders don't only just cling to survival for the entire term due to their own casting vote. It needs to stop being so factional. This doesn't mean it cannot be faction in a policy sense that is fine but it needs to stop having so much personal infighting.
The bringing back of Don Brash gives ACT a change to escape oblivion. It may now lose National the election though in a public reaction against a government which includes a strong hard right. Such a decision won't be possible to see the effects of until the actual day on voting however as that is likely to be a decision made on the day if ever there was one. They are also going to have to hope Don Brash doesn't try to get into a stock car again. He has an extra 5 years of awkward added to him doing it now.
9. How the Brash-brand wil help Labour. John Pagani says Brash's takeover of ACT shows the right doesn't think National is doing very well. That is what the left is saying too.
John Key will try to position himself as a moderate, balancing Labour and Act. That won't succeed very well because voters won't see an equivalence between Labour and Act.
Instead, Don Brash is supportive the exact narrative Labour has been trying to get up: That this is a government that doesn't do very much. It's been tough for Labour to get that message away because National has had cover form the global crisis and earthquakes, and has churned out just enough of its 2008 manifesto.
But everyone knows National is not really taking on the big problems.
Now National is taking that hit from its left and right on the same basic narrative, the message is likely to stick.
Some within National's caucus will want to respond to that by moving right to stop bleeding to Act, especially if the first couple of polls show a solid uptick in Act support. Senior ministers won't want to go along with that, although they will try to sell the budget as solving the problems, which in turn will make it harder to sell to the centre.
The result could easily turn into a fudged, chaotic mess for National.
10. We should take pleasure at the discomfort this will cause John Key. No Right Turn took time out of looking into Murray McCully's drinking habits to pen this thought about the Brash takeover.
The good news is that we'll be rid of Rodney; he'll be gone at the election. The bad news is that we may have to put up with Don Brash instead if he manages to revive ACT's fortunes.
The silver lining in that bad news is that the prospect is as discomforting to National as it is to us, not just because he's a toxic threat to their attempts to moderate their brand, but also because his coalition management is likely to be as publicly hamfisted as his two messy coup attempts, with public threats of toy-throwing if he doesn't get his own way, now, on everything. At the least, we can take some pleasure in the discomfort that will cause John Key.