Reading the speeches of Hide and Roy to the recent party conference is like reading bad Randian fantasy fiction from another planet. Hide describes the highlight of the past year as passing the three strikes legislation. This bill has been significantly watered down from ACT’s original form, but even so it is so bad that it is opposed by criminologists, prison guards, the Justice Ministry, Treasury and – ahh – the Police. And that is Hide’s pick for achievement of the year. Yes really.
Interesting that Hide didn’t pick restructuring Auckland for his top spot. In fact, Auckland is glossed over very quickly – one brief mention (three sentences) in the whole speech, compared to frequent fantasising over three strikes. Perhaps Hide is starting to realise how deeply unpopular the Supercity process is. Apparently the strain is showing on the ACT MPs on the Supercity select committee, with bizarre attacks on members of the public submitting. Mind you bizarre behaviour is by no means limited to Auckland issues, with ACT MP David Garret publicly calling for a programme to sterilise undesirables, regular madness from irrelevant relic Roger Douglas, and even former deputy Leader Muriel Newman launching into random racist tirades.
But ACTs malaise goes well beyond the erratic behaviour of its individual MPs. The party is literally tearing itself apart at the highest levels. Douglas and Roy led an attempted coup against Hide late last year, with Audrey Young reporting that Hide survived as leader only because of the direct intervention of and threats made by John Key. This creates the kind of instability in government that is anathema to voters.
Now it looks like the failed coup is still bubbling beneath the surface. John Armstrong reads the tea leaves of Roy’s conference speech, and finds poison in the dregs. Roy reminds the audience that “Each and every one of us has to face the challenge daily of ensuring that we are not cast as representing something other than the founding principles on which ACT was formed” – a clear rebuke to Hide for his costly abuse of ministerial perks. Roy notes the need for succession planning in leadership, and stresses that “Holding an electorate seat and a couple of percentage points of Party Vote is not good enough”. Ouch.
I think Armstrong is right – the coup is far from over. ACT is in a death spiral, the pressure showing on its MPs and in leadership struggles that will slowly tear the party apart. Good. The sooner this boil on the backside of the body politic is lanced the happier I will be.