Rodney Hide

The slow decline of ACT continues

In a way, you’ve got to hand it to ACT. The party’s obituary has been written many a time, as Hide, Brash and Banks fumbled their way along. Everyone was certain that the humiliation of Banks was the end of the line. Nonetheless, defying the naysayers, David Seymour held the seat of Epsom. ACT survived for another Parliamentary term.

Except, of course, that Jamie Whyte, party leader and philosopher-warrior, didn’t make it into Parliament to join Seymour. Immediately following the election, Whyte was in limbo as leader, still in charge, but awaiting the ponderings of the Board as to his future. The limbo is now over – he has tendered his resignation, and the Board has accepted.

Which means that David Seymour is now the leader of ACT. Is this the point where the donors turn off the tap? Where the members shrug and walk away?

Back in the Brash and Banks days, there was the occasional murmur regarding pulling the pin on the ACT name and forming a new party, keeping the donors and members, and jettisoning the public faces of a sullied brand. It must be tempting for the party’s backers to reconsider that option, given the joke that ACT has now become. Nonetheless, the party still has a seat, an MP and an under-secretary position, with all of the funding that goes with that.

And National keeps providing the electricity for ACT’s life support machine. There’s no guarantee that a fresh new libertarian movement would receive a hand up from National. With no electoral seat accommodation, it’s highly unlikely that a new party to National’s right would be able to explode out of the gates to hit 5% by 2017.

Which means that ACT will continue to limp on, its death rattle continuing. Seymour and the Board will talk of rejuvenation and growth, but I can’t see it happening. The best that might happen is that Seymour holds the fort well enough to bring in a second MP next time round. The odds are long, but they’re odds ACT will take because, frankly, they’ve got no choice…

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Too many errors – why ‘Dirty Politics’ won’t convince swing voters

Rodney Hide has very publicly rubbished Nicky Hager’s claims that Hide was blackmailed into resigning as ACT Party leader. Here’s an extract from his Herald on Sunday column this morning:

It seems a character called Jordan Williams told another character, Simon Lusk, that I had sent inappropriate texts. Lusk and blogger Cameron Slater then apparently message each other about threatening me with the release of the texts unless I resign.

And then I resign.

Oh, and Don Brash in replacing me was – according to Hager – Lusk’s client. Ta da!

What hasn’t been reported is Hager writing: “The documents do not contain the texts and we do not know they exist. There is also no evidence that a direct threat was made to Hide.”

So he quietly admits his “explosive claim” could be a fizzer. Even with the admission our so-called investigative journalist never bothered confirming his story. Hager never rang to ask: “Hey, I have just come across the damnedest stuff and just have to ask, were you ever blackmailed?”

To which I would reply: “No, definitely not. I would never give in to blackmail. I would go straight to the police. It’s a crime. I have no doubt the police and the courts would take a dim view of any attempt to blackmail a political leader and Government minister. It never happened.”

But then if Hager had fact-checked, “one of the most explosive claims in the book” would evaporate. Far better to publish, run the story, make everyone scramble.

That’s the thing – the blackmail allegation seems a case of Hager playing join the dots with too few dots. A few political operatives emailing each other and saying, “We should blackmail Hide!” doesn’t mean that Hide was actually blackmailed.

The blackmail allegation was one of the big allegations that featured prominently in the media’s initial coverage of Dirty Politics, along with the allegation that Judith Collins had arranged for a prisoner to be moved at Cameron Slater’s behest. The media are now backtracking on the Collins allegation, with Nicky Hager clarifying yesterday that he’s in fact alleging that a prison officer arranged for the prisoner transfer, not Collins. It’s a misreading of the book by journalists, rather than a mistake by Hager, but it substantially reduces the culpability of Team Key.

The more allegations that are either proven to be false, or can be credibly argued to be an exaggeration, the less likely it is that the public (who haven’t read the book and are relying on media coverage for their information) will believe the credible allegations.

Just look at last night’s One News Colmar Brunton’s snap poll. Question two of the poll asks:

[Nicky Hager’s] book suggests smear campaigns and leaks were organised at the highest levels of the National Party, including the Prime Minister’s office. Do you believe these suggestions?

The results? Just 28% of respondents said yes, they believe these suggestions. 43% said no, while 29% didn’t know.

And question three?

Have these allegations positively or negatively influenced your view of the National Party, or have they not made much difference?

5% didn’t know, while 82% said “Not made much difference”. Just 9% said they’d been negatively influenced. (And I don’t even want to know what’s going on in the minds of the 4% who said their view of the National Party had been positively influenced by the allegations…)

Now one could argue that if those 9% of voters who have been negatively influenced were leaning National and were now leaning left, that that’s a huge impact. A 9% shift in the polls would likely hand the election to Labour and the Greens. However, we don’t where those 9% of voters sat, in terms of allegiance. It’s entirely possible that a good chunk of them are left-wingers who didn’t like National, and now like National even less. Or that some are National voters who may like National less, but not enough to vote for a different party.

It’s a pity that Colmar Brunton didn’t dig deeper with their questions, but I guess we’ll see impact of Dirty Politics with the upcoming polling cycle. But I’ll be surprised if the impact is substantial.

UPDATE:

For those interested in a complete summation of the Rodney Hide blackmail dots that can be connected, Danyl Mclauchlan at The Dim-Post has a useful timeline.

Also worth noting is Andrew Geddis’s comment on Danyl’s post:

The question isn’t so much “did Hide actually step down because he was frightened into it by threats of stuff being released?” It’s, “did these people conspire to bring about this result?” Because you can plot to do something and be criminally liable for doing so without actually bringing the plan to full fruition.

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.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – the Colin Craig saga continues

It’s just three days ago that I wrote:

No matter how high National are polling, they won’t be able to trust that those polls will hold up on 20 September. The numbers from 2011 dictate that National will strike a deal with the Conservatives. They won’t dare risk losing a chunk of the right-wing vote that may be decisive.

I’d thought it was a foregone conclusion that Colin Craig would be gifted a seat by National. The only questions were which seat, when the deal would be announced, and whether National would run a faux candidate or not.

However, Mr Craig’s appearance on the Nation on Saturday morning may well have changed National’s calculus.

All Mr Craig had to do was keep his mouth shut and try and act normal. No talk of fake moon landings or mind-altering chem-trails. Nothing that would make National nervous.

So what does Mr Craig do? He tells Patrick Gower that he hasn’t a hope of beating any of the National MPs in the three North Shore electorates he’s looking at standing in. Given his statement from last week, that he was expecting National to pull one of their candidates to give him a free run at a seat, it’s an implicit admission that he believes that even if National stands a Goldsmith-esque candidate against him, voters will still vote for the National candidate.

That raises a significant problem for National. Do they stand a candidate, give him or her orders to “do a Goldsmith”, and risk having Labour come through the middle? And if they pull a candidate completely, can they trust voters to swallow a Colin Craig-sized dead rat under duress? In Epsom and Ohariu, the voters have always had a choice. If they really didn’t like Rodney Hide, John Banks or Peter Dunne, there was still a National candidate they could plump for. This election will be the same for then. Don’t like Seymour or Dunne? Vote for the National candidate.

National has always asked the voters nicely (or at least given them a saucy little wink and a nudge), and the voters have obliged. What Colin Craig is suggesting though is that the only way he’ll make it into Parliament is through duress. National supporters don’t like me? Tough. There is no National candidate. It’s me or the opposition.

I’m not sure the voters in East Coast Bays, Upper Harbour or Rodney will necessarily play ball. After all, who would be happy being forced into voting for a candidate who admits that he’s otherwise unelectable?

If National don’t end up doing a deal with Mr Craig, National will undoubtedly be hoping that its vote of no confidence in Craig will drive voters away from the Conservatives, possibly back to National. The last thing National would want is the Conservatives getting a decent proportion of the centre-right vote and having it go to waste. Better to send an early signal to voters that a vote for the Conservatives is a wasted vote, and have them desert in droves. The risk, of course, is that those voters head to Winston Peters, helping him get over the line when he might otherwise have fallen just below the 5% threshold.

National’s strategists have some serious thinking to do.

Len Brown’s personal gym

The story came out earlier in the week in the NZ Herald that Len Brown had his own personal gym set up, using equipment worth $5,198 that was paid for by ratepayers. At the time, I barely even glanced at it. Firstly, plenty of companies set up in-house gyms for their employees – employee health and well-being is a good thing… Secondly, just over $5,000 worth of gym equipment didn’t sound like a particularly large amount of money. And thirdly, it was a story by Bernard Orsman, who seems to have a personal vendetta against Mr Brown. Another anti-Brown story by Orsman – well, who’d have thought?

However, Rodney Hide highlighted the story this morning, again in the NZ Herald, which got me to actually read the original article properly. Mr Hide goes somewhat over the top (as he tends to do on occasion) by trying to compare the situation to employee theft. However, the major issue is the secrecy and lack of transparency by the Auckland Mayor and his staff.

Let’s look at the email trail.

On 24 November 2010, Phil Wilson (Mr Bown’s chief of staff) emails the council’s sport and recreation manager, Ian Maxwell, asking (in the Herald‘s words) “if there was any possibility of getting used equipment from a council facility or a supplier who could loan or sponsor it”. But here’s the kicker (in Mr Wilson’s exact words):

“The sensitivity, though, is that we don’t want to be seen to be spending any public money on him.” [emphasis added]

That speaks volumes. The Mayor and his staff have no issue with the money being spent. They simply don’t want anyone to find out. Secrecy is key.

Mr Maxwell replies that he would get some equipment, to which Mr Wilson responds with, “The almighty will be very pleased”. Hmm… What more can said to a response like that?

Being a good employee, Mr Maxwell was as good as his word. Brand new equipment was purchased, costing $5,198.85. Did the funds come from Mr Brown’s Mayoral budget? Of course not, as that would have been easily traced. Remember, secrecy is our watchword here. Instead, the money was taken from the fitness renewal budget on a “loan basis”. The Mayor got his equipment, he didn’t have to spend any money on it, it was kept off Mayoral budget books and because it was a “loan” it didn’t have to be declared as a gift!

I have no problem if the Mayor of Auckland wants to blow $5,000 of his personal budget on gym equipment, so that he can maximise his efficiency (although it may be easy for me to say that, given that I’m a ratepayer in Gisborne, rather than Auckland!). What I don’t like is the inherent culture of secrecy and lack of transparency that a story like this exposes. Public funds are not secret slush funds for the political elite.