A new ACT starts on Sunday
"This appointment is of prime importance. NZ needs a revitalised ACT as a counter to National's tendency to drift left"Featured comment
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.
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.
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.