Wednesday 19 June 2019

ReACTionary Politics.

Reaching Out For The Zeitgeist: Act Leader, David Seymour, and his neoliberal colleagues, have (perhaps unconsciously) grasped the multiple political implications of declaring ACT to be the “freedom party”. What they clearly have not grasped, however, is the fundamental incompatibility of neoliberalism with the right-wing populist zeitgeist they are so clearly hoping to exploit.

ACT, AND DAVID SEYMOUR, have foolishly mismanaged what could have been a highly effective party re-launch. I say “foolishly”, but that may be unfair. Act’s members and supporters are so fixated on the party’s low-tax, deregulatory, and anti-collectivist mission that the possibilities of the present political moment seem to have passed them by.

Yes, they appear to have grasped the potency of the Freedom of Expression issue; but their politically ham-fisted policies – scrapping the Human Rights Commission – have gifted their electoral enemies with an unmissable target. It is passing strange that the people who beamed in the increasingly frail Richard Prebble to open the “Re-Act” conference, proceeded to ignore his lessons on how to make a party like Act electable.

When Roger Douglas and Derek Quigley launched the ACT Party in 1994, they were convinced that if the New Zealand voters were given the chance to hear about its policies from the horse’s mouth, then they would embrace the party wholeheartedly and it would very quickly become the dominant force in New Zealand politics. To this end, Douglas called in his IOU’s from New Zealand’s big business-owners and got permission to address their employees directly.

Up and down the country went Douglas and Quigley, addressing large gatherings of both white and blue-collar workers. Underwritten by millionaire businessman, Craig Heatley, they ran dozens of newspaper ads and distributed hundreds-of-thousands of expensively produced pamphlets. All to no avail. Douglas and Quigley were peddling a political product that almost nobody wanted to buy. In spite of the more than one million dollars spent on introducing ACT to the New Zealand electorate, its support never climbed much above 1 percent in the polls.

Enter, Richard Prebble. If Roger Douglas was the “Rogernomics Revolution’s” Lenin, then Richard Prebble must surely be its Stalin. He understood, as Douglas did not, that ACT’s ideas would have to be brought into the New Zealand political landscape heavily disguised in the vestments of traditional right-wing populism.

That meant smuggling neoliberalism into the country in the same way that Springfield rifles were smuggled into the territory of the Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho: in the false bottom of a snake-oil salesman’s wagon, tricked-out with all manner of diversionary patent remedies and magic elixirs.

If the punters were unwilling to endorse lowering the wealthy’s taxes, then offer them the chance to get rid of the Treaty of Waitangi. Why bore them with lectures about the perils of heavy-handed regulation, when you could arouse their bloodlust with all manner of tales about out-of-control criminals and prisons run like holiday homes? How many laughs are there in policies designed to eliminate the welfare state? Nowhere near as many as there are in pillorying politically correct feminists and putting the boot into tree-hugging conservationists.

In 1996, with Prebble in charge, ACT easily cleared the 5 percent MMP threshold. Six years later, in the 2002 general election, the party peaked, with  7.1 percent of the Party Vote and 9 parliamentary seats. Then, in 2004, for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, ACT lost Prebble and began its long, slow, slide towards electoral extinction. Rodney Hide fought a gallant rear-guard action until he, too, was eased out of the leadership. After that, ACT was transformed into a National Party plaything; gifted the seat of Epsom in the vain expectation that, one day, it might return something more than John Key’s original investment.

But, what goes around comes around. As the current ACT leader, David Seymour, has observed – albeit rather indistinctly – there is a growing market for a distinctly twenty-first century variety of right-wing populism. Could it be time to refurbish the wagon of Dr Prebble’s Travelling Medicine Show?

That’s a very dangerous question. As right-wing populist varieties go, this latest one is particularly toxic. Premised on the racial superiority of the European peoples, it is determined to drive from their midst the non-European immigrant communities it blames for the socio-economic decline of formerly dominant ethno-cultural groups – especially white males.

In order to proselytise effectively, this ideological concoction (essentially indistinguishable from fascism) relies for its protection on our Bill of Rights Act’s guarantee of freedom of expression. Seymour gets this. He sees the “new intolerant left” gearing up to fight the latest iteration of the fascist foe, and the classical liberal in him is, at once, appalled and intrigued by the possibilities which such a feral ideological encounter might throw up. Naturally, he and ACT are foreswearing fascism in favour of freedom. But, among this new breed of right-wing populists, Seymour’s party must surely realise that, with “race enemies” to be fought, these two “F-Words” have a way of bleeding into one another.

But, if Seymour and his colleagues have (perhaps unconsciously) grasped the multiple political implications of declaring ACT to be the “freedom party”, they have clearly not grasped the fundamental incompatibility of neoliberalism with the populist zeitgeist they are so clearly hoping to exploit.

Building mass support in 2019-20 is all about pitting oneself and one’s party against the “Elites” and the impermeable “Establishment” those elites are pledged to defend. Seymour appears to believe that he can offer the right-wing populists the protection they need from New Left “intolerance” while, in the same breath, promising “the big end of town” the gift of tax cuts and a permanent deregulatory crusade.

That simply will not fly. Neither will the spectacle of a populist “freedom party”, campaigning against the corrupt political compromises of the centre-left and the centre-right, relying for its parliamentary survival upon the grace-and-favour of the very elites it purports to condemn. Right-wing populists may be deplorable, but they are plenty smart enough to spot a phony when they see one.

Twerking looks sexy when Miley Cyrus does it. Not so much when the twerker is David Seymour. If the ACT leader intends to learn the moves of a right-wing populist, then he had better dismiss his National Party dance-instructors.

Or, more directly: If you are hoping to win the right-wing populist vote, David, then you’re going to have to reach out to new, more rigorous, and much less forgiving, teachers.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 18 June 2019.


David Stone said...

Not relevant Chris but you might want to look at this.
Tying the value of a crypto to a basket of other currencies will make it work as an alternative money supply which Bitcoin and the others so far could never do because they immediately become a target for speculation and that makes them useless as a medium of exchange. This , if it is not extinguished by the banks (which it will be) would take over the world's money control. All currencies would soon be valued in terms of libra and the banks would all collapse.
Cheers David Stone
( not particularly for post)

guerilla surgeon said...

It seems to me that there are a number of strands to libertarianism. There are the naive utopians, who think all the world's problems will be solved by the market. Sort of idiotic because there basically is no free market, never has been, and probably never will be. There's the CEOs of large corporations who think with some justice that it will make them a lot of money. And there are other populists like travel, and I don't really know what the hell they believe in at all except power.
And many of them are jumping on the free speech bandwagon, which is interesting because the ones that yell the loudest – if you go to their websites, and I'm looking at you whale oil – don't believe in freedom of comment, and I've been banned just to prove it. Interesting that, even Alex Jones that extra nutty conspiracy theorist who believes his free speech is being restricted has pretty much the same terms of service as everyone else. In other words he can ban anyone he likes for any reason he likes, and if you don't like it you don't have to use the service. It is his private property after all. So there's a fair bit of hypocrisy here with regards to the free speech thing. And yes I know, all these ideas should be put out into the marketplace and we should argue them and the best ideas will triumph and all that. But if that really worked, why have we still got Nazis? Why have we still got racist and white supremacists? The fact is it doesn't work that's pretty damned obvious. And in the US and parts of Europe in particular, it's the right that are destroying free speech. Journalists are being arrested, papers are being closed, people are being threatened. So there's more hypocrisy here when they claim it's the left that's against freedom of speech.
And the elites. You have to laugh at that, because almost without exception they are part of the elite. And yet their followers – at least the more fascist ones – can't seem to see it. I remember Donald Trump's speech where he railed against the Goldman Sachs swamp. You know what his followers heard? Libbrul swamp. Which is just as well because he managed to stop much of his administration with parts of the Goldman Sachs swamp. It is very tempting to paraphrase that old World War I saying, only this time is donkeys led by lions. Because as Trump is showing, his followers are getting eaten up.

John Hurley said...

Premised on the racial superiority of the European peoples, it is determined to drive from their midst the non-European immigrant communities it blames for the socio-economic decline of formerly dominant ethno-cultural groups – especially white males.
So how do you account for Act's support for high immigration and amongst Chinese voters?

As for "in the same way that Springfield rifles were smuggled into the territory of the Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho: in the false bottom of a snake-oil salesman’s wagon, tricked-out with all manner of diversionary patent remedies and magic elixirs." I voted Values > Act > Labour > Non-vote > NZ First > Tops.

I voted for Act because I liked the idea of "Association of Taxpayers and Consumers" which I saw a a move to direct democracy?

Eric Kaufmann is described as "giving talking points [academic arguments] to the alt-right". He uses the term: ethno‐traditional nationalist:

" a variety of nationalism which seeks to protect the traditional preponderance of ethnic majorities through slower immigration and assimilation but which does not seek to close the door entirely to migration or exclude minorities from national membership. ".

Very few Trump voters support the KKK or even know what is meant by "alt-right".

The current lock down on free speech is due to ethnic speed mixing. It has been decreed that there can be no "other". I heard the ninnies on The Panel yesterday discussing the uplifting of babies by Oranga Tamariki. They couldn't understand how this would happen, but if you listen to their language (strawberries, cotton wool, fluffy ducks, whiskers on kittens.....): how could bad behaviour come from that.....!? We are seeing society unsuccessfully lead from above.

John Hurley said...

One of the flaws in the whole treaty fiasco is thinking goddness and virtues will fill a grand hole of imaginary dimensions. The problem is that "Maori" is not a fixed quantity. I listened to a speel about Banks Peniinsula Maori on the way in to Okains Bay and on the way out how "the tribe" had recovered through investing in treaty settlements and by utilising economists and other experts was worth gazillions. She had one ancestor and there were now 50,000 members. She said she heard Mark Solomon say that what was paid so far was a "down payment" for the whole South Island.

If it wasn't for the Treaty and a fudged sovereignty which British people would never have agreed to colonisation would have likely happened some other way. From the 60s and 70s the fragile agreement was exploited by the left. Paul Spoonley covers this in The Treaty Debate on RNZ. He sees this realisation that we invaded someone else's country as the greatest moral lesson of our time. But Spoonley is at odds with "his friend" Ranginui Walker on immigration "NZ will be ruined. It will be just like anywhere else in the world". Spoonly is quoted (along with Andrew Geddes) in todays Press which lashes out at David Seymour.

And we still have the comments on RNZ Facebook saying we whites should all go home.

The documentary series Landmarks has Kenneth Cumberland with his Grandson "Barnaby" on One Tree Hill, but he may have been standing on Cape Reinga looking across the sea to an unknown future. Is all very interesting.

Unfortunately we know what happened: we lost a conservative voice, but that conservative voice is reappearing: both Eric Kaufmann and Johnathon Haidt refer to cognitive behavioural therapy. By that we do not carve grievance into the wood: we dispute it.