ReACTionary Politics


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 appear 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 make it 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.

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Enter, Richard Prebble. If Roger Douglas was the “Rogernomics Revolution’s” Lenin, then Richard Prebble was its Stalin. He understood, as Douglas did not, that ACT’s ideas needed to be brought into the New Zealand political landscape heavily disguised in the vestments of right-wing populism. Neoliberalism would have to be smuggled 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 the principle of freedom of expression. Seymour gets this. He sees the “new intolerant left” gearing up to fight the latest iteration of the old 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, for this new breed of right-wing populist, 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.

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



  1. There’s nothing particularly hard about becoming a successful right wing leader of a successful right wing political party. Just say shitey things repeatedly. There are easily enough people who are shites to get over five percent. Same goes with other countries. There was no brilliance in what Trump achieved. Being racist etc always guarantees you votes.

  2. Who’s reactionary? Wait for David Seymour to pitch them Chris is. Because he’s got nothing else to say

  3. So over David Seymour as much as I am so over Simon Bridges. Both seem to be attention seeking Village Idiots.

    Seymour loves being the centre of attention in the NZ Media. And because of that I just cannot stand him any longer.

    Please, to the Epsom electorate, if you are stupid enough to vote for him next election then you should only have yourselves to blame everytime he says something that reflects badly back upon the electorate.

  4. God. That twerking thing? He looks like he’s scratching his arsehole on a fence post.
    I understand what you’re conveying in your most tremendous Post @ CT but there is a deeper level of required understanding that I just don’t get.
    Do I really live on the same planet as those who might vote for the idiot? And those same people who voted for a fellow who looks like he might have migrating worms also voted for roger and derek?? How can that be…?
    I was ‘on a job’ while standing in a field of sunflowers once. There we were, chatting amicably about this and that when the fellow whom I’d grown to like told me curtly that he was, in fact, a Right Winger. He said “ So? That means I’m not creative then? “ And I thought to myself, for once, and realised that no. He wasn’t in a creative roll. He does camera things but that’s like a trade. He’s a tradesperson. I was arguing that Right Wingers can’t, for the life of them, be ‘creative’. They think linearly. Thinking spherically is impossible for them. Right Wingers are, for all intents and purposes, alien in nature. They smell different. They look different. They have a weird energy… They do! It’s like they’re half cooked. Or over cooked. I’m not sure which. Maybe? Maybe they’re both half AND over cooked. A kind of multi dimensionally bung sort of lot??? Perhaps that’s it!? No wonder they don’t get it.
    I have a lovely dog. She’s sweet and kind and attentive but no matter what I do, I can’t convince her to bring the fucking ball back. I try bribery, treachery, thievery, shoutiness and threats but no. She loves to chase the ball… Then when she catches it? She drops it then barks. A lot. I think I have a right wing dog!? She can’t quite grasp the notion that if she brings the ball back? I throw it thus more fun!
    Right wing humanoids need to understand that ‘life’ isn’t about succumbing to the mental illness that is money collecting. Money’s just a thing. It’s a tool. It’s not of itself anything of real and actual value. Why don’t they get that?? The whole idea about money is its portability. That is all. All that banking and lending and adding ‘interest’ ? It’s all linear, it’s non spherical. It’s counter creative. The weirdy lust for more of it than you could spend has become the ball and chain around the ankles of humanity.
    Someone should tell that little rat prebble? He’d been thinking, remember? Eat your money. That’ll pep you up. Has electrolytes.

  5. 1996 was the first MMP election, support for both Labour and National was at historic lows (Alliance and NZF) and ACT populism was an effort at competing for votes of neo-liberal extremists with National and the populist right vote with NZF.

    2002, was the year of the low National vote, when United also did well.

    It would seem that Seymour sees National as unelectable (as 2002) – thus left fighting to retain sufficient centrist support to stop the loss of seats, allowing ACT an opportunity to pick up support on the right (neo-liberal extremists from National) and populists from NZF (tainted by being in the coalition with “liberals”).

    The more successful it is, the more likely Labour will be the largest party. And the less likely there could be a National-NZF coalition (no way NZF and ACT in the same group) because of the loss of votes to National. And if ACT takes NZF below 5%, there is the Labour-Green coalition.

    This ACT rebrand could help the left.

  6. This was a (not cheap) publicity event.

    This is a MMP voting environment.

    Are there any (very well funded) hopeful political parties looking for possible coalition partners in the future?

    Who paid for this publicity? Surely not Crosby Textor?

  7. This publicity stunt did not come cheap.
    ACT membership alone would have difficulty funding it without corporate (or other party funding).

    ‘Sfunny that the richest and well most funded party has no friends in a

    MMP country.

    Who paid?

  8. ACT and Seymour look overly desperate, maybe he should volunteer as one of the first to try his so promoted euthanasia bill, setting an example, and ridding ACT from a challenge they will not win, that will become an endless political liability anyway?

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