In March this year I became leader of ACT New Zealand, a political party that advocates free markets and the rule of law.
ACT, which stands for Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, was formed when proportional representation was introduced in 1996, and we have had members of parliament ever since. But by the time I returned home in late 2013, having lived in London for many years, ACT had fallen on hard times. Petty scandals and infighting had left us with only one MP and he was facing trial for electoral fraud. The party was polling 0 per cent.
If ever there was an opportunity for someone who had never even stood for parliament to become a party leader, this was it.
Throwing yourself in at the deep end is a famously quick way of learning how to swim. But combining the lesson with trying to save a drowning child is not advisable. ACT got 0.7 per cent of the vote at the election, the party’s worst result and not enough to add any MPs to our one candidate who won a constituency seat. Besides my various blunders, ACT did poorly because the National Party, New Zealand’s equivalent of the Conservatives, did so well. National won 51 per cent of the vote. The Labour Party came second with 24 per cent.
Why did the Nats do so well? Part of the reason is the popularity of the Prime Minister, John Key. But just as important was the alarming prospect of the alternative Labour-led coalition government.
Labour are bad enough. Their policies include managing inflation by banning people from spending some portion of their incomes and removing the presumption of innocence in rape trials. But their likely coalition partners were worse.
Worst of all was a political freak called the Internet-Mana party, a fusion of the political vehicle for Kim Dotcom, a bizarre German tycoon fighting extradition to the US to face copyright violation charges, and a pro-Maori party that wants all the prisons closed. Voters flocked to the safety of National.
Alas, National is not really a safe option. New Zealand’s left-wing parties have become so unpalatable because National has embraced every palatable left-wing policy. National always ends up accepting the left-wing agenda, arguing only that they can execute it more efficiently. Under National, New Zealand is awash with corporate welfare, middle-class welfare, attenuated property rights and legal privilege for Maori.
Don’t let the brand names confuse you. In New Zealand’s 2014 election, the centre-left won 75 per cent of the vote. The rest went to the far-left Greens and a couple of “common sense”, anti-foreigner parties of the UKIP ilk. ACT was the only party promoting liberty, property rights, low taxes and equality before the law. We got next to no votes.
I hope I was the problem.