John’s quick act sets up another flip

Written By: - Date published: 1:24 pm, March 21st, 2008 - 19 comments
Categories: act, election 2008, john key - Tags: , ,

Two days ago we ran a piece called ‘If I were ACT’s campaign strategist‘ which suggested ‘ACT needs to lay claim to the true right, without going so extreme that National has to disown them, by articulating a series of classic right-wing policies including: tax cuts, spending cuts, asset sales, and deregulation’. I didn’t realise a) that ACT were such avid readers and b) they would take the advice so literally.

Yesterday, new de facto ACT leader, Roger Douglas, held a press conference where he promised to slash government spending by 10% to fund tax cuts (mostly for the rich), abolish Working for Families, privatise education, and rent out hospital space to private providers.

Roger! That’s what you should do but not how you should do it. You should have been more moderate and built the case more gradually. By going so extreme so quickly, Douglas has forced John Key to immediately react by disowning ACT to prevent Right voters going to ACT and moderate people making the obvious conclusion that a vote for National is a vote for ACT’s radical policies. Douglas has shown himself to be an FPP dinosaur in the MMP age and made his party politically irrelevant.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom. But it’s wrong. The mistake is Key’s. Yes, Douglas went too hard too quickly but he has said what a decent bloc of voters on the Right want to hear (the Herald loves it). ACT will pick up support from National, despite Key’s attempt to make voting ACT seem pointless. All it needs for ACT to take 3-5% of the Right vote and suddenly you’ve got National polling in the mid to low 40s, needing ACT (and probably other parties) to have a chance to govern. What then? National needs ACT but Key has just said he’ll ‘be buggered‘ if he’s going to work with them. Can National really afford to turn its back on a party that holds a hunk of the right wing vote? No, Key will be forced reopen the possibility of a deal with ACT, going against his comments yesterday. Another flip-flop, of his own making.

[next week: ‘If I were the Greens’ campaign strategist’ – let’s hope they don’t take it as gospel too]

19 comments on “John’s quick act sets up another flip”

  1. Ruth 1

    Nothing Key says will ever meet with your approval will it Steve?

    ACT are dead in the water. I predicted over a year ago that they will not be in the next parliament. I stick to that.

  2. gobsmacked 2

    I don’t think Key can shift his ground, after such an unequivocal statement yesterday. He has to back that up – it’s not just about policy now, it’s his personal credibility at stake, with a spin-off to other issues, i.e. “can you believe what he says?”. So he can’t embrace ACT before the election. He’ll be, er, buggered.

    After the election, who knows? (see Peters, baubles, etc).

  3. lprent 3

    “they will not be in the next parliament.”

    It really depends on if they hold on to Epsom. Because they are dependent on that seat (I do not think they will hit the threshold). Tactically, they will concentrate Auckland supporters on Epsom for campaigning. They will probably use the same message – get two MP’s, split the vote.

    It is not like Tauranga where NZF couldn’t concentrate effectively because the catchment area was limited. It is a classic FPP strategy that does allow you to overturn national trends – ask Jim Anderton and probably Peter Dunne. But it is only really effective where there is a large urban catchment.

    I don’t think that I could predict it (and I know rather a lot about the seat).

  4. the sprout 4

    i wonder if the spectre of Douglas has been raised to make Key look like a more moderate option.

    captcha: package nobody

  5. gobsmacked 5

    “Can National really afford to turn it’s back on a party that holds a hunk of the right wing vote?”

    Rodney’s looking fit these days, but I wouldn’t call him a hunk …

    Anyway – Key specifically ruled out Douglas in cabinet. For that to be even possible, Douglas has to get into Parliament, so the list placing is crucial. Without Douglas there, Key has some “wriggle room” to do a deal with ACT after the election. And whether he’s there or not, ACT can still support National on confidence and supply, without being in cabinet.

    So I don’t think Key’s completely turned his back on ACT. On the other hand, he has bought himself a fight, and Douglas seems to be spoiling for one.

  6. the sprout 6

    i don’t think Douglas is really that concerned about ACT being in parliament or not, as long as his agenda can be realised. i really doubt he could be bothered with being in parliament. if National achieves another shot at the neo-liberal experiement Douglas would be pretty agnostic about who does it.
    and his bogey man presence sayes to the electorate “look how centrist Key is, he’s nothing like the far right”. erroneous of course, but marketable.

  7. Ruth 7

    On the other hand, he has bought himself a fight, and Douglas seems to be spoiling for one.

    I’d agree with that. Douglas has a huge ego, and wants to be a fly in the ointment. I don’t think he will succeed though.

    Interestingly, when speaking to a former ACT supporter I know about his reincarnation he said “Why? Does he need the money?” He is yersterday’s man.

    I was a foundation member of ACT BTW. I’ve changed my tune since then.

  8. randal 8

    tell ’em nothing, take ’em nowhere and the yes the cheque is in the mail!

  9. The term ‘flip-flop’ has become UnSpeak in the New Zealand political and media lexicon. If Key expresses an opinion, based on new information – it is a ‘flip-flop’. Though I have to say that it’s worth remembering Emerson’s remark “A foolish consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds.

    What is more curious is how often Micheal Cullen sends out a a clear and, one would assume, an informed message – like the 400 million deficit, then announces that the prior message was completely incorrect by a matter of a 600 million dollars that is not a flip-flop. (On that day it was spun as good news, as though it was a windfall, rather than dangerous incompetance and a matter thaan undermines public confidence – with a swollen beaurocracy, more wonks, surely the facts available should be more accurate rather than less?)

    Perhaps a new term needs to be coined to apply to Mr Cullen – something to do with dumb luck would be good. Emphasis on dumb. Or luck. You decide.

    We will in November.

  10. Pascal's bookie 10

    The thing is David, when Key changes his “opinion” about something more often than not the new information that led to the change is simply that his old opinion was unpopular.

  11. Camryn 11

    Good post, Steve. I concur, although Gob has a good point in comment #2 as well.

  12. Stephen 12

    By “tax cuts, (mainly for the rich)”, don’t you mean the first $20,000 earned would be tax free??! The top threshold was going to go down to 30%, so it’s a bit both ways wouldn’t you say?

  13. ak 13

    Right on the money as usual Steve – with one small correction: Slippery John and his masters won’t be “..forced to reopen the possibility of a deal with ACT,” (and thus another flipflop). They’ll simply continue to distance themselves from ACT (if cornered, and going by the media to date, this will be infrequent if at all) until after the election.

    Because post election, as every voter knows, ACT will support the formation of a Nat-led administration no matter what the circumstances or National policy. (don’t forget Douglas’s last Machiavellian performance – a decade dealing with his victims will never let me forget, for one – and the strength of the venom of Basset et al. Nothing, repeat nothing, would let ACT allow Helen back)

    Tactical tip to dear Hels & co: from hereon in, Labour must never refer to “National”. The public must be constantly reminded that if their flirtation with the chimeric Golden Slipslop somehow stumbles to consummation, we are back to a NATIONAL-ACT GOVERNMENT: and every stuttered “policy statement” henceforth is a NATIONAL-ACT policy.

    Lest we forget.

    (ps yes, this captcha thingammy is v hard to decipher at times – most frustrating if you lose a comment)

  14. Perhaps Key has learnt how to play MMP?

    1. I really doubt Key has any real problem with Act’s policy, other than the number of votes it will lose national of course.

    2. Publicly disowning Act shifts National towards the centre, they pick up centrist votes and shed some of thier extremists towards act, who desperately need to make 5 percent.

    3. Come the day after the election Key announces a National-Act-Someone Else coalition, dispite telling the public other wise, and justifies it as the lesser of 2 evils when faced with the prospect of a left wing coalition forming.

    Do any of your seriously believe that Key will have any problems changing his mind on this one too? at least its been well publicised enough that he cant pretend he never said it in the first place.

    The reutrn of Douglas makes it impretive for Labour and the Greens to win this upcoming election, don’t doubt for 1 second that Douglas and Key could undo nearly a decades worth of social progress in just 1 term in government.

  15. higherstandard 15

    What social progress is that Killer

  16. ak 16

    Oh I dunno histan – but least corrupt govt, 2nd best health system and lowest unemployment IN THE WORLD sound pretty good for starters…

  17. income going up, civil unions.. and so on and so on. Maybe have a look back through the archives

  18. Steve Pierson 18

    Stephen. The largest benefactors of tax cuts that make the first $20K tax-free and lower the top tax bracket from 39% to 30% will be those who pay the largest part of their income in the 39% bracket – ie. the wealthiest.

  19. Higherstandard 19


    Have discussed the Health issue with others before the report you quote from doesn’t say we are the 2nd best health system in the world – it is also based on patient self reporting.

    Least corrupt government not sure where you got this from but are you suggeting that the previous Nat governements were corrupt and that during Labour’s tenure this has been cleaned up ?

    KITNOF – Income going up yes it has but the wage gap between NZ and Australia has also widened dramatically

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