Can small political parties, or political movements, survive their own members?
There's been talk this week, in the wake of the Act Party meltdown, about the possible formation of a new new-right political party. Could such a party rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes? Is one needed, to keep pulling National to the right?
Of course that wasn't why Act was started. Every right-wing blogger over the age of 30 these days likes to claim they were there at the founding of Act, and perhaps they were in some way. All I can say is that one day, when I was working at BBC World Service with Lindsay Perigo, for Alan Gibbs, we both drove out to Redoubt Road with Rodney Hide to meet with Roger Douglas and Derek Quigley to talk about setting up a ginger group which would push for not just lower taxes but, as its then name indicated (Association of Consumers and Taxpayers), more power to consumers. As opposed to all-power to government.
Well, look at Act now. I'll take the money from consumers to visit my grandchildren in the UK (Douglas). I'll take the money from consumers to take my girlfriend to the UK (Hide). I stuffed up so I'll take two weeks off paid for by consumers (Roy, but at least she came back early). I'm a big hypocrite, and a crook, and I stuffed up big time so I'll resign from Act, but I'll take two weeks leave paid for by consumers while I consider my political career (Garrett).
George Bernard Shaw, where are you when we need you?
So Act deserves to die. Rodney Hide, if he remains leader and if he wins Epsom again, may be back in Parliament with one or two MPs, but they will not be representing the Act Party which grew out of those principles seeded in the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers. That Act Party has been destroyed. The Act Party of today has no values, no faith, no morals. It is philosophically bankrupt.
And the MPs who sit in the House today preside over Act's corpse. So don't talk to me about any rebirth from that cadaver.
But what is it about small parties which leads them down the path to self-destruction? Is it just the right? It's not just a lack of philosophical basis, because the same in-fighting and back-stabbing occurred in Ayn Rand's objectivist movement. Read any of the many books written about that group, which grew smaller and smaller because of the continuous exiles to Siberia for the slightest questioning of Rand's strict moral code, and see how any dissent was viewed as high treason. (Except Rand's long-running secret affair.)
Similar outbursts occur here. I fell out with the New Zealand Libertarianz Party over child smacking. Libertarians believe in the non-initiation of force, and I argued that when an assault case involving the physical smacking or hitting of a child comes before the court, then a child is entitled to the same defence as an adult. Children are not "nearly humans", and it is not "self defence" for an adult to hit a child. We once allowed husbands to rape their wives but when that law was changed we did not march through the streets calling on nanny state to keep out of our bedrooms.
But back to Act, and the disintegration of small parties. It's the individualism, I believe, of the members. By nature, a party such as Act is made up of people for whom a cooperative is anathema. They're not used to making decisions by committee, and it takes an unusually good leader, such as Richard Prebble was, to hold them together.
Rodney Hide has not been such a leader. Hide has not led with strength, with example. He is not a leader who inspires trust in one to go out there and do well. Can you imagine him as your editor, as your football captain, as head chef in your kitchen, chief surgeon in theatre? I thought not.
When I went into Act, straight from the arms of North & South, I naively believed it would be like working for the magazine. We'd be healthily competitive, all wanting the cover story, or the Qantas award, but happy for the one who got it because we all benefited from the best writer, and the team was only as good as the weakest link.
Was caucus like that? Oh no, no, no, apart from one or two members. When a man was down, well, you kicked him. Some of the most vile emails I received, as an MP, were from Act supporters. Go on to the right wing blog sites now, if you can be bothered, and search 'Coddington' to see the sort of jealous drivel written about my Herald on Sunday column (and no doubt Pundit now that I'm here). It's incongruous that I get more friendly contact from Chris Trotter and Matt McCarten, bless them, than the right!
Act has destroyed itself, with its leaks from within, its botched leadership coups, Hide's concealing from the party and the public Garrett's sleaziness, and Garrett's complicitness in that. Did the rest of the caucus know? I think we should be told.
Is this what politics must be? A brutal scramble to the top, where you must destroy your colleagues to get there, before they destroy you? Sadly that was why I left, as the words rang in my ears, uttered by Gladstone, who famously said, when showing a new chum around the House of Commons, "Oh no my dear chap, those are the opposition, your enemy are behind you."