Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Act the fools

The Act Party continues to provide endless entertainment. About a week after I wrote about the circus when the party dumped its deputy leader, the clowns again entered the centre ring.

Yesterday, Act Leader Rodney Hide suggested that Heather Roy may not return from her 2-week break, after all. Reportedly, Hide and others were talking with the woman who would enter Parliament in the event that Roy resigned. They also allegedly spread the notion that party founder and political has-been Roger Douglas, who had been Roy’s sole-supporter in caucus, was done with her.

Then this morning, word broke that another Act member, Peter Tashkoff, number seven on the Act Party List in the 2008 election, planned to challenge Hide for the Epsom Electorate seat that Hide now holds. He was scathing in his criticism of Hide.

Finally, Heather Roy returned to Parliament today—a week early. She said nothing mattered but the “success” of the party, but she also had to take questions about an alleged affair she’d supposedly had with her ex-staffer, who had leaked her scathing 82-page criticism of Hide. The source of those rumours was allegedly the Act caucus.

As a centre-left voter, I freely admit to a lot laughing and a bit of schadenfreude as the Act Party circus continues. But the truth is, National Party supporters, most of whom cannot stand Act for different reasons, won’t be too unhappy, either. After all, National doesn’t need Act to govern, should a total meltdown happen.

A less partisan observer might wonder why they’re all acting like this, and I’d suggest that it parallels the friction with the right wing in the US.

The Act Party was formed as a liberal (in the 19th century sense of the word) party, mostly libertarian, especially on economic issues. For the last election, they took on social conservatives—Garrett and Boscawen; though Douglas can’t exactly be called a moderate on social issues, it’s never been his focus.

There is always tension between libertarians, who believe that social issues are none of the government’s business and who pursue conservative economic policies, and social conservatives who feel that in many cases such issues are more important than economic issues. That same split happened to the teabaggers in the US, and is now playing out again there over issues like same-sex marriage and the Islamic cultural centre in New York City. The problem is that a union between the two kinds of conservatives is inherently fraught and unstable when they disagree so fundamentally over their core issues.

But in the case of Act, it’s all the more bizarre: The only reason they’re in Parliament at all is that Hide won the Epsom electorate. As it is, he may not be able to hold the seat, so do they really want to risk their only ticket back into Parliament? Without winning an electorate, they can’t get back into Parliament, so Hide would seem to be their only chance.

Obviously, I’d like to see them fly apart at the seams because I think they’re pretty useless. The old Act Party, much as I disagreed with it, was at least useful in that it presented an alternative viewpoint that was wrong, but rational. The new Act is all over the map, from right to far-right. Rather than being a more or less sane rightwing, albeit libertarian, party, it’s decayed into one filled with wingnuts, many of whom are racist, sexist, homophobic—oh, and they’re climate change deniers, too.

I can’t see who—or what—Act represent anymore, apart from itself. Act once was a party of principle. For it to survive, it’ll have to return to those days, and jettison the loopy extremists they’ve taken on board.

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