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A new ACT starts on Sunday

LATEST: ACT choses Whyte for leader, Seymour for Epsom | Early electorate endorsement for ACT would boost National

On Wednesday, Steven Joyce announced $15 million in new taxpayer subsidies for the red-meat industry.

Taxpayers will be spending this money on biotechnology – or “investing” it as the minister calls it – to “help improve meat quality, contribute directly to improving on-farm profitability and ensure we’re meeting the needs of consumers.”

Quite why middle-class families and SMEs should be taxed to improve the profitability of farmers and meat companies remains a mystery and, at one level, who cares? Paula Bennett burns through $15 million on welfare every six hours and genetic science is undoubtedly a better spend than another cent on the dole.

Still, what is wrong with a multi-billion dollar industry that it won’t stump up its own $15 million for R&D but instead makes a call on taxpayers?

And why is a National-led government saying yes?

Not since 1984 has a genuine free-market party been so necessary.

No alternative
The ACT board has no alternative this Sunday but to select Jamie Whyte as its new leader and David Seymour as its Epsom candidate.

To opt for former MP John Boscawen would be for the party to yet again look backward as it did unsuccessfully with Sir Roger Douglas in 2008 and Don Brash and John Banks in 2011. Worse, it would be for ACT to sacrifice its self-respect, with there being little doubt Mr Boscawen is National’s preferred candidate after Rodney Hide rejected its overtures.

In contrast, Dr Whyte is the real deal: he really does believe in radically reducing the size and powers of the state. He is not one to acquiesce to corporate welfare in exchange for a handful of charter schools. Mr Joyce and John Key will find it more difficult working with Dr Whyte than with Mr Boscawen, Mr Banks or even Mr Hide but that is as it should be.

In any case, the personal relationships are perfectly cordial, with the prime minister inviting Dr Whyte to his annual summer party this week along with the top brass from his other support parties, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party. 

Moving on
After Sunday’s board meeting, poor Mr Seymour faces an endless round of school visits and Rotary Club dinners to become part of the furniture in Epsom. If he expects us to vote for him, he must be as prepared as National’s Paul Goldsmith to be dunked at the Cornwall Park School fair in April.

Dr Whyte’s challenge is broader: to start rebuilding ACT as a credible national movement. The incentives are in place: his own election to Parliament depends on him growing ACT's party vote.

Undoubtedly, from Sunday, the media will try to trap and define him. As an academic philosopher at Cambridge University and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Dr Whyte has pushed the boundaries of classical liberalism.

He has, for example, outlined the scholarly case for the complete abolition of labour laws and health and safety regulations, and the legalisation of drugs, up to and including P (as the mainstream media has picked up on).

Finding the most outlandish thing Dr Whyte has ever written will provide fabulous sport for the press gallery next week (hint: check out the more obscure academic journals rather than the mainstream newspapers) but it is a fairly straightforward PR challenge to manage. 

Dr Whyte will simply need to be crystal clear from the outset that he has no intention of debating, let alone being bound by every word he has ever written as an academic or professional provocateur. 

His previous work strongly indicates where he stands philosophically – and he does not resile from the general principles – but he will be bound by and debate only the agreed programme Act will present to the electorate before the election.

This is no different from how George W Bush or Tim Groser handled allegations of drug use or Helen Clark her silly claims as a junior backbencher that the CIA was spying on her: that was then, this is now, we’ve moved on.

From Monday, Dr Whyte has a job to do: get on with building the new Act – one based on timeless principles of freedom and choice, led by a new generation for a new wave of ACT supporters, and supportive of but challenging to Mr Key’s centrist regime.

LATEST: ACT choses Whyte for leader, Seymour for Epsom

Comments and questions

There is no doubt that New Zealand needs a revitalised ACT as a counter to National's tendency to drift to the left.
As such, this appointment is of prime importance.
paleo martin

I agree completely Paleo. I think Boscowen is the man for the job as he's always well informed, hard working, and universally well respected. If ACT have cleaned house thoroughly to make sure there are no more disasters, I think they can make a comeback - lots of people I talk to will vote for them if they have their act together (excuse the pun), I know I will.

Drift to the left.

Yes, more left than labour. John Key remains the best Prime Minister that labour has ever had. He has become a very good politician but not a leader.

The ACT party is not far right. Its just right.

The only way ACT will rejuvenate itself is to finally become a classical liberal party, not a bunch of compulsion touters and wowsers. Whyte would seem best qualified for that, however, even his gaff answer to Rebecca Wright's parody question this week of would he take a tax payer funded junket - he said he would if there was, effectively, consensus - has me suspicious of him. If nothing else, he obviously doesn't think on his feet well: the way the whole interview was framed - Paul Henry Show - he simply needed to say no. How hard was that?

I'm hoping Libertarianz, despite deregistering, field at least some candidates. If no such option, I doubt I'll bother voting (and that for the first time I can remember). I was considering ALCP, as they would seemingly be electioneering on at least a single classical liberal principle, but then I am starting to find that party is in many ways quite Left of centre, so it would be like voting for the economic and social Gulag the Greens would force on me, just for the privilege of smoking a joint. In which case you'd need one, yes, but no. Not going there.

There is no party in NZ that a laissez-faire capitalist and small stater minarchist, like myself, who is a social liberal - yes to euthanasia, legalisation, you do whatever you like so long as you do no harm and are responsible for your actions, etc - can vote for. No party that offers limited laws based on an individualistic ethic, not the silencing mangle of identity politics with its coercive, intrusive tax surveillance state. And I reckon we're more than 5% of the voting population.

I hope John Boscawen gets the role. He is a very pleasant man, yet assertive in his views. I am sure he will have the widest appeal and public support.

Clearly Matthew wants ACT to continue to fail.

Thoroughly agree, I used to vote ACT but saw them go off the rails. I for one am more than happy to revert to voting for a party that maintains those base principals of less Govt (but is prepared to negotiate as you have to), but run its party is a consistent and professional manner

Matthew tweeted Boscawen may donation $1m to ACT if he becomes leader. That's an outrageous slur and shows Hooten is campaigning for Whyte, but without disclosing his interest. Matthew - are you in line to pick up a sweat consultancy deal if Whyte becomes leader? Yes or no?


Interestingly, Herald on Sunday confirms donation rumour this morning, although not the actual amounts.

"Sweat consultancy deal". Love it.

Boscawen is a good man but ACT needs to draw a line between its recent past and its possible future.

Whyte appears to be an impressive and articulate libertarian. Let's hope the board has the courage tomorrow to pick him.

Did you see the Paul Henry piece Damien? (My post above).

I have now, a bit of nothing. I prefer to judge Dr Whyte on his writings and they are exceptional.

It is a hard road finding the perfect libertarian Mark!

Getting a lot of information on Whyte this afternoon (Sunday). Yes, starting to like him. An actual classical 'liberal'.

Why one earth would any remotely right centre party want to support National which under the direction of English,Joyce, Grosser and Smith is clearly to the left of centre. Look at the facts , an economy totally reliant on milk powder sales and increasingly concentrating on trade with the triple axis of basically communist dictatorships China, Russia and India. A government with two steps to the left and one to the right is moving away from its supposed history, ancestry and the future the USA, Japan, Australia and Israel. The continuing collapse of the NZ sharemarket- with a weakening telecom and the farcical power company sales. The decline of the sophisticated tourist inflow from US, UK, Ireland & Germany. The total lack of apartment, motel and hotel construction in Auckland since about 2006.
Too illustrative quotes ( paraphase)- John Banks- I am in full support of the economic direction of Bill English and supported the early years of Helen Clark's rule. Bill English - Northlands economic decline is the result of the wrong economic policies. Our Nat/ Bill solution is two new Waitangi Treaty settlements generous negotiated for our cargo cult followers by my (-Bills)old Saint Pats Silverstream mate Finalyson.
Surely Cunliffe and Little represent a more middle class solution, than the relics of Muldoonism- Banks, English, MIchelle Boag and Sue Wood thinking. Only the totally tribal would prop up the Nat regime.

The Act party never miss an opportunity to "miss an opportunity". I'm sure the same will be true on Sunday.

Jamie - met him a few years ago before he went to Sydney. Rates himself somewhat. Clearly considers himself to be a genius. Rather patronising.

That was my impression of him at the Epsom meeting, which btw was the first time i had seen him live.

Paleo has got it right.
National is moving more and more to the left and we need a force on on the right to counter this.
Key is a consensus (rather than a conviction) politician and will do anything to retain power;a dangerous condition.

The whole point of ACT is, and always was, to appear more right-wing than the Nats, in order to make the nats appear more centerist and less extreme. ACT's brief is to help the nats pass laws that would be perceived as very right-wing if not for the mainstream media's comparison to ACT's extremist stance. Perception by comparison. The 'lesser' of two evils. The 'lesser' evil was what was wanted all along; the ACTors are just there to make it seem more palatable to the voters. The conservatives would do the same job, and no doubt will, once they start to market themselves better and get a friendlier, less obviously-neurotic front man with a bit of charisma.

Whyte? Heaven protect us from another academic. At least John Boscawen is not arrogant, is known to be decent and honest, and does not want to legalise hard drugs.

Name one honest National MP- i.e. one who has stood up to the iron-handed, saw-shucks John Key.

The National cabal have been a disaster, and the treaty claims settlement has turned into a giant rort - a disgraceful business. And the unelected, supercilious, and grossly underinformed Finlayson does as he pleases.

Matthew, try to get it right, do.We don't need another born-to-rule politician.

So, Cassandra, would you support the prohibition of alcohol, the "hard" drug whose abuse results in enormous damage to individuals and their families?

So, Cassandra, would you support the prohibition of alcohol, the "hard" drug whose abuse results in enormous damage to individuals and their families?

We support Paleo's view.
Act needs to be reborn to drag National,probably kicking and screaming back to the center right.
As another commentator has said,John Key is the best prime minister that Labour ever had,but enough is enough!
Probably Whyte is the better bet for Act leader rather than nice-guy Boscowan,in order to better stand up to Key's smarm.