26 April 2011

New Right dinosaurs fight for survival

There are many ironies in what we are seeing with the (now very old) 'new right' scrabbling desperately to regain a foothold in the electorate. The likes of Brash, Banks, Douglas, Gibbs etc had their political hey-day in the 1980s and early 90s. Because their laissez-faire policies were thrust upon us with little effective democratic mandate and no real consultation, we voted to overhaul the whole electoral system in 1993 and brought in MMP. Without MMP there'd be no ACT party in Parliament at all. But one good thing about MMP is that its results give us a clue as to how much support those good old 19th century laissez-faire policies actually have among the voting public: very very little.

Brash claims that his leadership of ACT could revive the party's support, as well as bring it back to its original Rogernomics/Ruthanasia principles. Sure, Hide has lost support and has taken the party down an unfortunately populist route, but the weird wisdom behind Hide's direction was that populism half-succeeded where neo-liberal purism would have failed miserably. Brash's ultra-dry style may be backed by a few wealthy potential donors, but not many voters are going to buy it. John Key seems at least to have got that point.

But here's the other irony: neo-liberal politics has always been contemptuous of democratic politics. Despite the ideas of 'freedom of choice' etc that the new right espouse, history shows us that the best way to get such ideas implemented in the real world is to take advantage of political or economic crises and to ram them through without any democratic mandate at all. If you can get a dictator to do it for you (e.g. General Pinochet in Chile, or Yeltsin in Russia), then so much the better. Milton Friedman (intellectual master of the new right) used to be a big fan of Hong Kong in the 1980s, when it was a British colonial outpost ruled by an unelected executive. (And look who's running HK now!)

The laughable thing is that this septagenarian new right are struggling for relevance with a portion of voters that may amount to little more than 3% - or even less. Brash no doubt aims to lift the party over the 5% threshold. That would be an incredible feat if he can do it (and that's a big 'if'). But it does shows you how marginal their relevance actually is.

ACT and its supporters would probably have a better chance of getting their ideas implemented if they could encourage the army to stage a coup... But don't shout about it - they have wealthy backers!


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