The Mortification of ACT: Malpractice by Cactus

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Thu, 2011-12-01 22:18

Cactus Kate has an article entitled "ACT's Future" in the NBR today. You'd think with a title like that there'd just be a blank line or two, but Cathy manages to fill some space with insights such as:

John Banks remains as the last man standing after one of the most disasterous [sic—didn't NBR pick this up?] coups in New Zealand politics. A poorly executed coup without an army. A coup where short-sighted ACT MP’s Douglas, Roy and Calvert anointed Dr Brash but in turn the only reinforcements he dragged with him to run the Party were Lindsay Perigo and John Banks.

Dr Brash turned out to be the old duffer most of us all feared.

As the sole survivor, John Banks has to step up now and make amends.

Banks has a duty to change his politics to defend ACT core values and principles and promote a good portion of the quality candidates that were on the list with him such as the likes of Seymour, Simmons, Nicolson and Isaac. These people are the future of ACT in whatever form its members choose to take it and with it a whole host of younger more energetic players many of whom helped Banks.

There's only one of the people she names who values ACT core values and principles above betraying or blandifying those values and principles when expediency would appear to dictate, and that's Nicolson. And the likelihood of Banks transforming himself into a standard-bearer for those values and principles is as great as that of Ahmadinejad converting to Judaism. Odgers simply wishes to preserve ACT with the hegemony of Rodents intact. The same Rodents who made it impossible for Don to be leader in anything other than name; the same Rodents he should have banished within a nanosecond of assuming the role. But he had no idea at the time just how toxic they were. I venture to suspect Cactus Kate did. And that she approved.

I'll repeat for the zillionth time: if the party is to remain it must repair unabashedly to its core principle (that I had restored to its website):

that individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent rights and responsibilities; and that the proper purpose of government is to protect such rights and not to assume such responsibilities.

It must repudiate the culture, engendered by Rodney, of Machiavellian machination and subterranean character assassination. That requires the repudiation of the Rodents who revel in that culture.

And it must cut Banks loose.

From what I'm seeing on Freemasons for Freedom it's more likely that a new force will emerge than that ACT will be salvaged. Probably for the best. But I repeat my warning to the participants in any new party: make sure you don't hand it straight back to the same unprincipled opportunists who poisoned ACT.

Litmus test: the marijuana speech.


Ross Elliot's picture

...I put right wing in quotes. The import should be obvious.

Like it or not, the simplistic jargon of NZ politics places ACT to the right, whatever that may mean to an uneducated electorate.

The point is now moot. ACT, with Banks in control, is now truly right wing, meaning authoritarian conservative.


gregster's picture

Whittington's perfectly entitled to "mouth off"

Yes he probably was and is entitled to his opinion on “economically ignorant” Banks - and it came three days after the election. And as she said, this coming from a 25 year old about a successful businessman. (Just let’s not mention the mayoralty - or his political track record.)

Throwing some more Cactus in; “He may not have been near a University or an Economics textbook or 15th best speaker in the world* but he deserves more respect than to have such pseudo-intellectual snobbery chucked at him when he's yet to even finish negotiations with John Key.”

I’m no fan of Banks and we should see what happens in the coalition but even if Don was there I don’t think Key is serious about improving anything. He’s a showman fiddler.

"now that the election's over. Even the blandifier Isaac, one of Cactus Kate's pin-ups, has publicly raised questions about Banks's commitment to classical liberalism. Is that unprofessional too?" Cactus herself has the same doubts; While the situation with John Banks is not ideal for an ACT purist.

I think my 'unprofessional' missed the mark. I wasn't sure, hence the quotes.

As I've stated before, many of us were prepared to put up with Banks's fetid presence because we didn't think he'd end up being pivotal: it was perfectly reasonable in the first flush of the coup to assume Don would quickly take the party over the 5% hurdle and make Banks irrelevant.

With hindsight Don should have attempted the Epsom seat himself. But equally importantly he should have toughed it out with the classically liberal policy hints, so as to distinguish the Yellow team from the Blue.

What we didn't realise was the extent to which Don had jumped into a pit of snakes determined to crush him.

Surprisingly naïve. Even I honestly thought a good clean out was the very next thing to do after Rodney was booted. The mistakes all stem from then. [Edit: You too note this in your main post.]

For the record, anyone less racist than Don I can't imagine. Wise Maori would too agree. [Edit: honest Maori will admit it's a rort.]

I hope I don't die without knowing just what happened between the Monday night of Don's triumphant Campbell Live appearance and the taboofication of the speech by the following morning, and the acquiescence to that taboofication by the likes of ACT on Campus and Whittington, who allowed his article supporting the speech to be pulled off Kiwiblog with no word of protest.

The marijuana speech looks to have been seized upon by Don’s enemies and these include media lefties who actually agreed with that content. Only now will the Herald admit Don was correct. (Tim Murphy you bastard.) But Don should have realized that this would put him offside with his ring-in Banks.

Focus groups...

Deborah Coddington's picture

When I was an Act MP we used Focus groups, but only really to show us how hopeless we were. MPs tend to get up themselves - entitle-itus - and focus groups are a good way of telling you that you're nothing but chopped liver. So you get a focus group of 'likely Act voters' and ask them who Deborrah Coddington is and they don't have a clue. Nothing like that to bring you down to earth and make you get out and work hard. Nothing like that to make you go out and frighten the horses.

Ross Elliot, Act was never ever envisioned as a "right wing" faction. It was always there to "keep to two old parties honest". Sometimes we attacked National, sometimes we attacked Labour. We were mates with no one.

We were the ONLY PARTY which went down to the steps of Parliament to meet the hikoi marching to protest the Foreshore and Seabed Bill because we believed in property rights. We spoke out strongly against the Labour Govt' appalling move to go against the Appeal Court's decision to allow iwi to seek leave in the Maori Land Court to claim customary ownership of the foreshore and seabed (with the rider they had little hope of winning).

What was "right wing" about that?

We voted with the Green Party against taking boy racers' cars off them.

We voted with the Green Party against searching passengers before they boarded domestic flights.

When we did these things, holding to our core principles, we also held in the polls.

It wasn't a safe haven - Linz will remember because he was in the Gallery - we got headlines - but we didn't go down to 0.7 per cent.

It was the internal back-stabbing which killed Act - the Rodent factor, as Linz calls it.

I've said this time and time again...

Ross Elliot's picture

...ACT's demise, in part, and that mostly, was a function of National's rise.

Sure, ACT shot itself in the foot, but there's no great history of "right wing" factions in NZ politics, save Bob Jones in 1984. National sucked the oxygen out of the room. They all ran to the safe haven. Including Banks.

History shows all fractures happen on the left: Values, Social Credit, Greens, Social Democrats, New Labour, Mana, Maori, NZ First, and the Alliance (a combo of fractures), et al.

Principles aside...

Stephen Berry's picture

The strategy of sleeping with National was a disasterous one.
MMP has consistently demonstrated a trend of the polling figures of junior coalition partners plummeting into the margin of error. So why did ACT go into an election campaign as National's coalition partner?

They should have attacked National's centrism, carved out a space from 'National's right' (my apologies for using antiquated political terminology), while National not only occupied the centre, but became cemented in that place by virtue of being attacked by a right wing party.

"I'm standing for Parliament because I want the leader of another party to become Prime Minister"
Voters think, "Fuck it, I'll vote for the other party then."


Lindsay Perigo's picture

Everything went to focus groups from about July. Somehow we managed to get some decent things through by just taking no notice (matter of fact I could never get any sense from anyone as to what the focus groups had said). As well as the focus groups there was the Oleaginite from Aussie and our homegrown version whose identity I'm sure I don't need to spell out to you. Among the lot of them the pressure to blandify was relentless. As I've said, the party that used to revel in controversy ended up in deathly fear of it. It's telling, I think, that Don got not one headline post-marijuana.

Act's demise

Deborah Coddington's picture

Karen the way you describe things makes everything crystal clear - why Act has finally fallen apart. Starting from the end of your post, you are absolutely correct, all organisations do have people with differing views etc. When I was in Act, it was exactly like this, from the Caucus down, and the Caucus wasn't whipped on voting. Therefore sometimes four of us would vote in favour of, for example, banning boy racers, and four would vote against - even though it wasn't a conscience vote. In this way the membership would be kept happy. Naturally this would be thoroughly discussed in caucus beforehand, and we had to articulate and argue out our reasons for our voting, and justify them based on the Act principles. That could be interesting, and Richard Prebble would soundly test the arguments. But in the end, remember, it was the party of responsibility. Even the MPs had to take responsibility for their actions.

So again, you are correct, it is the mark of a good leader to manage these differences. Richard was such a leader. He could manage this very diverse caucus, and the very diverse membership. I remember when Rodney Hide was the perk buster, and sometimes got into trouble in terms of causing huge controversy, and some members got upset, and Richard would say, at conferences, "Well, sometimes Rodney bites the postman instead of the burglar, but that's the price you pay for having such an effective opposition MP."

Richard was always very effective at settling down the membership. At least on the surface, anyway. And the membership was huge then. I don't know exactly how big, but well over 10,000. And we campaigned hard, at his orders. I was the list MP for the North Shore. I had to walk the streets delivering letters. I had to have fundraising dinners at McHughs - packed out with speakers like Bob Jones, Barry Colman, meetings with businesses once a month. I used to have $20,000 in the North Shore Act bank account. You don't raise money like that with Facebook chat groups, or on Twitter.

And now you say Act divided into two factions and one faction actually believed in being an adjunct to a major party! No wonder the party went down the gurgler. Holding focus groups with likely target markets then telling back to them what they want to hear "in the hope of getting their vote". In other words, licking your finger and holding it to the wind. Who on earth signed off on this? These groups most likely already give two ticks to the major party anyway! Act's not even asking them for their vote. Act's not giving them any reason to vote for Act - they're just insinuating themselves into these people's consciousness, in some sort of craven way. How embarrassing for a party which was once described as Act, the Party which punches above its weight. Act, the party of ideas. Act, policy not politics!

Herald backs new party

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Excerpt from NZ Herald editorial this morning:

His [Banks's] true colours were revealed when Dr Brash backed the decriminalisation of the personal use of cannabis. This advocacy tallied with Act's promotion of individual freedom and personal responsibility. It was to be expected from a party that embraced classic liberalism. Yet Dr Brash's initiative was rejected out of hand by Mr Banks, confirming that he was very much a social conservative.

The disenchantment of many in Act with Mr Banks has been underlined by Stephen Whittington who, at number seven on Act's list, is regarded as one of the party's brightest young talents. He has questioned the Epsom MP's compatibility in the harshest terms, pointing to his attitude to ethnic minorities and the gay community, and suggesting there was also a yawning gap on economic issues. Mr Banks was, he said, "interventionist", a fatal flaw for a party that stands on sidelining the government as far as possible. Mr Whittington has also advanced the view that, with Mr Banks making it his personal mission to "suck up" to National, Act exists in name only.

By most yardsticks, that seems a reasonable conclusion. The party's brand has been badly tarnished by a succession of scandals. As much was confirmed by its 1.07 per cent share of the vote on election night. Now its only MP does not fit the Act mould. There appears every reason for the supporters of its principles to call it quits and establish a new liberal party. They could do so in the knowledge that there will always be a niche constituency for their core philosophy, even if Act's high-tide mark of nine seats and 7.14 per cent of the vote, in 2002, will be difficult to revisit.

This acknowledgement that the cannabis speech was a comfortable fit with party principles is a bit overdue. Better late than never I suppose.


Mark Hubbard's picture

First, welcome on board SOLO Smiling

... the confusion within the Party to the questions "Who are we"?, "What do we stand for"?

Surely those are the two easiest questions for any party to answer, and if they can't, they shouldn't ethically be contesting for any vote, as they either had no founding principles, or they've sold them out trying to game play my choices.

But really, easy, easy questions. There's nothing more important to the politick than philosophy, yet is appears to be the topic politicians feel they can ignore ... well, that and economics and history.

Well ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

He did speak with gravitas on mainly economic issues. But, true to the blandifiers' strictures, he didn't say anything. And the rest is history. Eye Had he stayed true to the Chris Christie approach, this entire conversation would be different. Something for the new party to keep uppermost in its thinking.

And at the heart of

Karen B's picture

all you describe Lindsay in your last comment was the confusion within the Party to the questions "Who are we"?, "What do we stand for"?, "How do we communicate that in succinct and simple ways that people will understand"? How do we sell the benefits"? etc etc

Was ACT a classical liberal party? Was it the party of "No Second Class Citizens" complete with compulsory super? Was it's purpose Roger's "Unfinished Business"? What is the ACT brand?

And then when Don became Leader, "his" team preferred a Chris Christie type approach and the rest wanted the ex- Reserve Bank Governor to speak with gravitas on mainly economic issues.

So that is what he did. And the rest is history.

Gregster ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Whittington's perfectly entitled to "mouth off" now that the election's over. Even the blandifier Isaac, one of Cactus Kate's pin-ups, has publicly raised questions about Banks's commitment to classical liberalism. Is that unprofessional too?

As I've stated before, many of us were prepared to put up with Banks's fetid presence because we didn't think he'd end up being pivotal: it was perfectly reasonable in the first flush of the coup to assume Don would quickly take the party over the 5% hurdle and make Banks irrelevant.

What we didn't realise was the extent to which Don had jumped into a pit of snakes determined to crush him. Remember the fiasco over the Maorification ad? Don wanted to announce his arrival as leader with a KASS one-law-for-all statement. Ansell was on board at that point, and was the perfect person to write the script. The snakes immediately starting hissing and lunging from every angle. It wasn't just the Rodent-snakes, though Rodney lost no time in going on TV to denounce the ad as "polarising" (oh, please!); the Roger Douglas faction (a third sect Karen doesn't mention in her most welcome and accurate post here) tried to undermine the project as well, echoing the politically correct line that it was racist. As a Douglas protege, Whittington held that view too. This, in fact, was the reason he "dithered" about going on the list. Even Deborah weighed in. She and I had a public spat at an ACT function one night when I demanded she back up her assertion that the point of one-law-for-all was "to put Maori in their place" and that Don was "an old white racist." For the record, anyone less racist than Don I can't imagine. But the bastards and bitches were out to get him on this, no matter what fashionable slander they had to stoop to. They leaked draft copies of the ad to newspapers, along with details of the arguments we had had over the wording of it. Boscawen leaked it to an ACT regional meeting. Cactus dutifully joined the chorus, as I recall. Even before the ad appeared, the whole thing had the appearance of a monumental cock-up—exactly what the snakes intended.

Thereafter, I don't think we (by "we" I mean those whom I would identify in hindsight as "Team Don," who were hopelessly outnumbered by the entrenched Rodent-snakes) ever recovered fully. I've already documented the Rodents' resistance to Don's ChCh speech on core principles, which anyone can verify simply by viewing it on YouTube. Further along, of course, came the marijuana speech, after which Don himself, unfortunately, succumbed to the Rodent-snakes and feral conservatives. It will for ever be one of the great "what if's" of NZ politics—what if Don had held his nerve? I hope I don't die without knowing just what happened between the Monday night of Don's triumphant Campbell Live appearance and the taboofication of the speech by the following morning, and the acquiescence to that taboofication by the likes of ACT on Campus and Whittington, who allowed his article supporting the speech to be pulled off Kiwiblog with no word of protest.

Notwithstanding his milksoppery on that occasion, it's likely—and, in my view desirable—that Whittington, should he wish it, rather than David Seymour or the convenor of Freemasons for Freedom, will end up leading whatever new group emerges from the rubble of election night. His 30 seconds at the end of Back Benches was magnificent. Stephen does need to learn, however, that he has things to learn. The silliness and anti-liberalism of Roger's proposed asset tax, for one thing. The value of life experience over intellectual wankery, for another. I for one hope that the new group doesn't choose a leader in a hurry ... not because I don't think Stephen should fill the position eventually but to give him the opportunity to mature a bit. On this, Cactus Kate and I would be in agreement.

ACT's Demise

Karen B's picture

I have been reading with interest all of the various post-mortems written about ACT and comments by ACT members on what went wrong. The common cry in many of these conversations is a call for ACT (or a new Party) to remain true to it's core principles. Yet many of those calling for that were, in one way or another, complicit in the movement of ACT over time away from those principles they proclaim to hold so dear.

As I saw it, there were two camps in ACT. One camp believe that a political party should be based on core principles and that every utterance, every vote in the House and every speech made should align to those. Over time, heard often enough, those who agree with and believe strongly in those principles will vote for you, and those who don't...won't. Eventually, the Party will build a constituency over the 5% threshold and be a significant enough force to effect change.

The other camp, while believing in the core principles, say that only a tiny portion of the population will ever vote for those principles and associated Policies. They believe the best way to effect change is through incremental small step change by way of being a very small partner to a large governing Party. Communications during a campaign are about asking likely target markets what they think, by way of focus groups, and then using that as the basis of the campaign to "get their vote", ie repeating it back at them. Some argue that inevitably, this approach, will lead to confusion in the electorate as to what the Party actually stands for (something you cannot accuse the Greens of!) because it will change each election.

If you think back over the last 3 years, those divisions were at the heart of many of ACT's public problems.

Don Brash, to my mind, was willing to be very clear and principled (and would fall into Camp One) however was surrounded by others who all fell into Camp Two.

On a related note, all organisations are going to have people with differing views as to the direction and approach. It is incumbent upon the Leader to manage those views. That is, don't shut down significant dissenting views with underhand tactics, rather build a consensus with your core top team and try to manage those differences, the goal being a team united in one direction. That is the mark of a good leader, to my mind.

The many root causes of dysfunctionality within organisations are at heart, the same, whether it be a political organisation or a private company. But one thing is for sure, if not addressed, if left ignored, it leads to implosion, eventually.


gregster's picture

This Cactus lady seems right here about Whittington's 'unprofessionalism.' Brash deserves credit for the state of ACT.

Barely with the Party a Pariamentary term, Whittington diddled around deciding whether he would stand for the Party and now he's spat on them by mouthing off. At number seven on the list he would have only made it to Parliament if ACT could break the 5% threshold. Given at the time of the list selection there realistically was only a very small hope in hell that number seven had that chance, it should be Brash he launched the broadside at for his failure, not Banks for doing his job and actually being on message the whole campaign in winning the seat with his team in Epsom.

Sayre's law

Damien Grant's picture

The Labour party is going through some ritual purging at the moment as the factions wrestle for control.

It is interesting to watch, but what is more interesting is the fact that these factions are invisible most of the time. They keep their squabbles behind closed doors and do not rip each other apart on blogs.

Given that those who hold liberal views are truly the one (point zero seven) percent, it is clear that Sayre's law is being applied.

It is all very disappointing. Time for a group hug.

Then there's Whale

gregster's picture

Slater, in these days of Muldoon-like John Key, has the cheek to call ACT a cult of personality. And invents a party called Liberatarianz.

He suggests that Libertarianz should wheel its trojan horse into the National tent, despite seemingly insurmountable difficulties having tried liberty with a small 'l' in ACT.

Cam brings with him his particular writing talents which tested the surrendering NBR editors; "I asked a long term ACT supporter what they would do if the party ceased to exist and they told me that they would get an interest in something else.

They had no interest in joining any other party than the ACT party. That told me right there that ACT supporters didn’t really understand or grasp that politics is a long game or that you need to grow your base."

Was it supporter, or supporters?

It seems you can't just...

Marcus's picture

...walk into a party from outside and assume an effective leadership. (With the "first past the post" system you couldn't do this anyway.)

You have to have been on the inside for a while and judge what needs to be chopped and changed to repair it.

I agree with you on Nicolson.

Stephen Berry's picture

I agree with you on Nicolson. He may not be a fiery orator but his liberalism is consistent - even if he is a little too quiet about it.

Here's what's missing ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... from the make-up of the Rodents. It's an old-fashioned quality called nobleness. They are ignoble. Very old-fashioned word, but tragically up-to-date reality.

Here is nobleness:

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