So Act deserves to die. Rodney Hide, if he remains leader and if he wins Epsom again, may be back in Parliament with one or two MPs, but they will not be representing the Act Party which grew out of those principles seeded in the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers. That Act Party has been destroyed. The Act Party of today has no values, no faith, no morals. It is philosophically bankrupt.Coddington has also experienced firsthand what we have all seen glimpses of in recent weeks:
And the MPs who sit in the House today preside over Act's corpse. So don't talk to me about any rebirth from that cadaver.
When I went into Act, straight from the arms of North & South, I naively believed it would be like working for the magazine. We'd be healthily competitive, all wanting the cover story, or the Qantas award, but happy for the one who got it because we all benefited from the best writer, and the team was only as good as the weakest link.As for Hide’s leadership:
Was caucus like that? Oh no, no, no, apart from one or two members. When a man was down, well, you kicked him. Some of the most vile emails I received, as an MP, were from Act supporters. Go on to the right wing blog sites now, if you can be bothered, and search 'Coddington' to see the sort of jealous drivel written about my Herald on Sunday column (and no doubt Pundit now that I'm here). It's incongruous that I get more friendly contact from Chris Trotter and Matt McCarten, bless them, than the right!
Act has destroyed itself, with its leaks from within, its botched leadership coups, Hide's concealing from the party and the public Garrett's sleaziness, and Garrett's complicitness in that. Did the rest of the caucus know? I think we should be told.
Is this what politics must be? A brutal scramble to the top, where you must destroy your colleagues to get there, before they destroy you? Sadly that was why I left, as the words rang in my ears, uttered by Gladstone, who famously said, when showing a new chum around the House of Commons, "Oh no my dear chap, those are the opposition, your enemy are behind you."
But back to Act, and the disintegration of small parties. It's the individualism, I believe, of the members. By nature, a party such as Act is made up of people for whom a cooperative is anathema. They're not used to making decisions by committee, and it takes an unusually good leader, such as Richard Prebble was, to hold them together.So can ACT be saved, or can something rise from the wreckage? I would probably be more optimistic than Coddington.
Rodney Hide has not been such a leader. Hide has not led with strength, with example. He is not a leader who inspires trust in one to go out there and do well. Can you imagine him as your editor, as your football captain, as head chef in your kitchen, chief surgeon in theatre? I thought not.
While never a fan of the ACT brand of small-government and deregulation, it has always been clear that economic liberalism is where the party’s core lies. That is why the party was set up in the first place, but along the way too many other angry crackpot groups hitched along for the ride. Given John Key’s populism and determination not to do anything too radical, there is probably a good percentage of the electorate whose political views aren’t currently being represented in Parliament. An Act Party that focuses on those central principles ought to be able to survive, if not prosper, above the 5% threshold.
But the current brand is hopelessly damaged. ACT is now the BP of the political environment, and nothing short of a radical change is likely to save it. They need to ditch Rodney Hide, axe the “tough on crime” garbage and all the nuttery that comes along with that, and focus on deregulation and personal freedom. They may even need a new name.
And they will need to find personalities whose moral codes aren’t copied directly from Ayn Rand’s playbook. People who can lead by example and inspire people to follow them, and who support each other. A party where the knives are always out has no future.
It may be too late to save them in 2011, regardless of what they now do, but their backers have enough money and influence to ensure a potential return in 2014 of some entity formerly resembling the original manifestation of ACT. New Zealand First is a good example. Winston Peters’ party meets a certain “demand” in the political market, and in some polls is sitting at about 4%. NZ First may well return in 2011, despite having done little or no campaigning since being ousted, and despite all the damage done to Peters in the political mainstream under the previous government.
Unfortunately for Rodney Hide, he is no Winston Peters. For all his faults (and he has many, including economy with the truth), Peters has a cunning, guile and personal magnetism that Hide entirely lacks. It is hard to see how Hide could return in 2014, assuming he loses Epsom (which seems almost certain now).
But the party he currently leads does have a future. Just not with him in charge.
I don’t like the economic policies the “pure” form of ACT stands for. But I also heartily dislike people without principle, and when those sorts of people gain ministerial positions we should all be concerned. I hope they don’t get their act together and that they slide into oblivion, but if ACT are to return let them at least stand for something clear and consistent.