Richard Prebble

It isn’t easy being Whyte

Jamie Whyte has a problem. He’s the leader of a party that doesn’t have enough support to get more than one MP into Parliament, assuming ACT wins the Epsom electorate. And given that he’s not the one standing in Epsom, that means that unless something magical happens to ACT’s polling, he’ll be missing out. David Seymour will be ACT’s sole representative in Parliament.

ACT is polling just 0.5% in this site’s Poll of Polls. The highest any major poll has had them this year is 1.1% (the mid-March 3News Reid Research poll), and in the last dozen polls released, they’ve hit 1% just once. Of the last five poll results, they’ve ranged between 0.8% and not registering at all.

Richard Prebble (and, to a certain lesser extent, Rodney Hide) understood that ACT’s natural ideological constituency was relatively small. There really aren’t that many classical liberals floating around. Nonetheless, in the wake of the ever-extending meltdown that was the last gasp of Hide’s leadership, Don Brash’s attempt to make lightening strike twice, and John Banks’ eccentric conservatism, ACT finally went back to its roots. Jamie Whyte was supposed to be the calm voice of rationalism. Voters would be unable to ignore the power of the Professor’s arguments, and ACT would be great again. No more the shrill populism of perk busting! No more the awkward conservative Sensible Sentencing Trust juxtaposition! Nothing but cool, calm classical liberalism…

Unfortunately, such ideological purity still has only a tiny natural support base. Thus, no movement in the polls. So what do you do when nothing you say gets you any traction? Well, after having consulted Richard Prebble, there’s only one way forward – go populist. Expand upon Three Strikes, and go Back to the Future with a One Law For All crusade!

Now, Richard Prebble always understood that when one rabble-rouses, one shouldn’t over-think the rationale. One Law For All and Getting Tough On Crime don’t have the most convincing rationales behind them – either philosophically or statistically. They’re crude slogans, designed to attract support without thought.

That’s not the Whyte way. As a former professor, he doesn’t want to be seen as simply a common Prebble-esque rabble-rouser. He enjoys the role of political philosopher, and therefore needs a philosophical underpinning to his every stance.

One gets the feeling that his impassioned philosophical defence of One Law For All was made up on the fly, a work in progress. It was certainly easily demolished on blog sites such as Pundit, Maui Street and Public Address. And from there, the philosophy-on-the-hoof process has continued, with Whyte attempting to cite coup-plagued Fiji as a model of racial policy. Now he’s tried to cite Sweden as a an example of how to eradicate race from the law, only to be monumentally fisked by Professor Andrew Geddis.

Unfortunately, the populist policy Whyte is pushing already exists (to a greater or lesser degree) within a crowded conservative market place. Whyte is up against Winston Peters and Colin Craig, and Whyte is certainly not a patch on Winston when it comes to selling racism. He’s not even a patch on Colin Craig in those stakes, and that’s certainly saying something.

They say that all publicity is good publicity, and Jamie Whyte must certainly be hoping that’s the case. There’s really little else that seems likely to go his way.


ACT living in cloud cuckoo land over Banks

The ACT Party is running lines of support for John Banks, following his being found guilty of electoral fraud, but the party really needs to sit down, take a deep breath and ruthlessly cut Mr Banks loose.

The attempts at support have at times bordered on the farcical. The day of the verdict, ACT’s president, on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, couldn’t seem to work out whether Banks was guilty of anything, as he wavered between accepting the Court’s judgment and proclaiming Banks’ innocence.

ACT Party leader, Jamie Whyte, on 3News last night, appeared to be running the line that if Banks is successful in gaining a discharge without conviction, there’ll be nothing to see here, so he shouldn’t have to resign.

And in the NZ Herald this morning, ACT’s campaign strategist, Richard Prebble, argued that the party’s brand would be hurt more by Banks resigning “when he hasn’t been convicted” than by him staying till the bitter end.

The ACT Party leadership seem to be in a state of utter denial that what Mr Banks has done is in any way wrong. Here’s Mr Prebble on the subject:

“We’re acting as though this is some heinous crime. No it isn’t, it’s just a clerical error”.

No, Mr Prebble, it is not “just a clerical error”. A High Court judge, after sitting through several weeks of evidence, has very compellingly ruled that Mr Banks took deliberate steps to hide the source of donations, in contravention of local government electoral  law. Just because Len Brown did it with trusts (which were at the time legal, albeit unethical), does not make it okay for Banks to try and hide the source of donations that he knew were not anonymous.

The problem for ACT is that the longer the party tries to defend Mr Banks, the more out of touch they look. There’s a very strong appearance of “electoral laws are for other people” in their attempts to paint Banks as an honest, upstanding citizen. It brings to mind the brand destruction that Rodney Hide caused, as the perk-buster was exposed to have been raking in the perks himself. The public doesn’t like hypocrisy.

With just a few weeks before the substantive election campaign begins, ACT needs all the help it can get to engage the public with its policy. Unfortunately, when the only time your leadership features on the evening news is to a) respond to questions about why John Banks is still around, or b) feature in stories about “coat-tailing” rorts, policy doesn’t get a look-in.

The highest ACT has been in any poll this year is 1.1%. They currently sit at 0.7% in this site’s Poll of Polls. Neither figure gets them a second MP. Jamie Whyte needs to tell Banks to get off the cabbage boat and resign.

UPDATE (07/06/14 @ 12.15pm):

It’s just been reported on that Jamie Whyte has “spoken to Banks and made it clear he thinks he should resign…”.

Says Whyte:

“John and I discussed this option earlier today and we have agreed that he will take the weekend to consider his alternatives.”

If the ACT leader has now given Banks the hard word, I would imagine we’ll see a Monday morning resignation. Banks will go gentle into that good night.