On the night after the speech, Don appeared on Campbell Live to defend it. The programme ran a poll on decriminalisation to coincide with his appearance. A record number of people—15000—responded; 72% supported him! Not for the first time, we saw that this is one of those libertarian issues where the voters are much more enlightened than most politicians. As the Press noted at the time, on this matter Banks rather than Brash is the dinosaur.
Here was Don’s chance to re-brand ACT unambiguously as the live-and-let-live party across the board, not just on economic issues. But he needed to hold his nerve. I had texted him a line from Rudyard Kipling just before his Campbell Live appearance: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you … “
I agree with Lindsay that the speech was not a mistake per se. However where I have been critical is that key stakeholders were not in the loop, and talking points agreed in advance. If that had been done, then the speech could well have worked as intended – showing Don as a social liberal, not just an economic liberal.