Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stumbling Act

It now looks like it was a predictor when it happened: In June 2004, Rodney Hide succeeded Richard Prebble as the leader of the rightwing Act Party. On his way to the podium, Hide tripped, stumbled and nearly fell. History very nearly repeated itself this week.

The Act Party Caucus dumped its deputy leader, Heather Roy—the only woman in the five-person Act caucus in Parliament—and replaced her with one of the three other MPs—all of whom are older white men. In the end, John Boscowen replaced Roy, who had supposedly repeatedly plotted to depose Hide as leader.

Pickings were slim for Act: There was the king of the troglodytes, the truly vile Roger Douglas, but he reportedly can’t stand Hide and, in any case, Prime Minister John Key promised during the 2008 campaign that Douglas would not be allowed any ministerial position. That promise—repeated during the Act turmoil this week—headed off an issue that could have cost National the election (ordinary New Zealanders despise Douglass for what he and his neoconservative mates and corporate elites did to New Zealand in the 1980s).

That left David Garrett, an arrogant, self-righteous prick who is, not coincidentally, racist, sexist and homophobic, or John Boscawen. Boscawen was a main fundraiser for Act, affiliated with the far right Business Roundtable, and hid both facts while organising rallies against electoral finance reform because it would make it harder for them to raise secret donations for rightwing political parties. His campaign also helped to gain pre-election attention for conservative politicians.

So, for Act it was choice between viler, viler and vilest. But did they dump the right leader?

Roy’s ally, Stephen Franks, apparently leaked an 82-page document in which Roy referred to Hide a “bully” and said he was trying to intimidate her, accused him of undermining her and asserted that she felt that, for her own safety, she couldn’t meet with him alone. After she was deposed and this document released, the party dragged her in front of the TV cameras where she was all soothing calmness—and reminiscent of a Stepford wife.

Today New Zealand Herald columnist John Armstrong said:

“Hide has barely 15 months at most to turn things around both for his party and himself. There is absolutely no room for further error. Even then, you would not want to put money on his succeeding.”

In the 2008 election, Act got only 3.65% of the Party Vote and would not be in Parliament at all if Hide hadn’t won the Epsom electorate seat, and Hide only carried that with 56% of the candidate ballots cast. National deliberately avoided campaigning in the electorate, but still won 22% and Labour won 13%. If National runs a strong candidate, or the centre-left parties do a deal (even if only encrouaging their voters to vote for the National candidate), then Hide is in trouble; if Hide goes, the party is gone (the last poll I saw Act was at less than 2% Party Vote support).

Given the declining fortunes of Act, will the party take their chances on retaining Hide as leader, considering its very existence is at risk? Or will they wait for him to stumble yet again?

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