May 07 9:00 AM
Speculation about the imminent death of ACT, and its replacement in National’s affections by the Conservative Party has all of the flavour of out of the frying pan into the fire.
Why would a small “c” conservative Party like National want to rid itself of a right wing extremist group like ACT, with all of the problems that has caused over the last five years, only to replace it with an even more extreme moral jihadist group like the Conservative Party? The strange people in ACT are nothing compared to what lurks within the Conservatives, with their odd mix of populists, economic right wingers, and religious fundamentalists. None of them seem to fit the National flavour that John Key has created, and any union between them would simply replace the current set of difficulties, with an even greater set in the future.
Of course it could be said, with some legitimacy, that politicians will do anything to stay in power, so an alliance with the Conservatives, or even a rapprochement with New Zealand First for that purpose cannot be ruled out. The obvious response would be that the inherent instability of both options (the Conservatives are totally untried, and New Zealand First has never lasted the distance in a governing arrangement) makes both at best extremely short term, inevitably unsuccessful, steps to take that will simply end up embarrassing and humiliating National. So why would they be the author of their own destruction?
All of which raises another possibility. Every now and then, ever since the demise of Sir Joseph Ward, there is a call for the re-establishment of a Liberal Party in New Zealand. Occasionally, the flame flickers a little more brightly, as in 1963 when a Liberal Party actually contested the election that year with minimal success.
The essence of modern liberalism, or radical centrism as it has come to be known in Britain is two fold – a commitment, as always, to personal and economic freedom, through open market economies and free trade, but balanced by the acceptance of government responsibility to look after the vulnerable through the education, health and welfare systems. The party which most accurately qualifies for the description of New Zealand’s version of a modern Liberal Party is UnitedFuture. Its economic credentials are certainly clear, and the Party’s principles show strong commitment to personal responsibility and the role of the state in caring for the less well off.
Such an option is easily and readily written off by all the media commentators, but needs exploring. A genuine modern liberal party, and not a neo-liberal quasi libertarian variation like ACT used to be before it became riddled by scandal, might yet be the antidote National needs to stave off the extremism of the Conservatives. But for it to become a reality, National will have to do more than just wish for it.