ACT on Honesty for Taxpayers

July 21st, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Jamie Whyte has proposed:

On this policy, regulatory impact statements, cabinet submissions and ministers’ introductory speeches for Bills in parliament will need to state clearly that “but for this proposal, your income tax rate would be X percentage points lower”.

When taxpayers visit the website of any government agency or local council and any programme of that agency, they should have a clear idea of the price of that agency in their taxes or rates.

Government departments and agencies should be required to declare on their home webpage “but for this agency, your income tax rate would be X% lower”.

Similar rules should apply to local governments. They should be required to reveal how much lower rates would be if not for a particular new policy proposal or existing service of the Council.

If a minister, department, agency or local council believes that the programmes it administers do indeed offer value for money to taxpayers, they should be proud to say how they are putting taxes to work in the clearest way taxpayers can understand.

For example, the government should be keen to alert taxpayers that, without Working for Families:

·      the 17.5% income tax rate would be 12.5% OR

·      the 10.5% income tax rate would be 3.5%.

The Minister for Tertiary Education should be keen to remind everyone that, if not for interest-free student loans

·      the 17.5% income tax rate be would 16% OR

·      the 28% company tax would be 25% OR

·      the 33% top income tax rate would be 30%.

That’s a great idea. The public will be able to judge the worth of spending programmes more effectively, if they know the opportunity cost of the spending – the reduced taxes they won’t be getting.

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The ACT Party List

July 13th, 2014 at 2:32 pm by David Farrar

ACT have released their list. The top six are:

  1. Dr Jamie Whyte
  2. Kenneth Wang
  3. Robin Grieve
  4. Beth Houlbrooke
  5. Don Nicolson
  6. Stephen Berry
  7. Dasha Kovalenko

If they get 1.2% of the vote (they got 1.1% last time) and retain Epsom, then Jamie Whyte comes in. At 2.0% they also get Kenneth Wang. They would need 6.0% to get Dasha Kovalenko in, which sadly will not happen.

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ACT advocates vouchers for education

June 30th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Jamie Whyte said:

If a supermarket fails to provide its customers with the food they want, it will go broke. Other supermarkets that offer these dissatisfied customers a better deal will win their business. 

The same goes for the farms that produce the food. Fail to provide what your customers want as efficiently as your competitors do and you will eventually go bust.

This ongoing competitive market process explains why the quality of food has improved so much over the last 100 years while the cost has declined.

By contrast, if a state school fails to provide educations that satisfy the parents of their pupils, it will not shut down. Its income does not come from the parents it is failing to satisfy. It comes from taxpayers with no choice in the matter.

Indeed, if a school performs poorly, it is likely to attract extra government funding. In the private sector, resources flow into success; in the public sector they flow into failure.

There is a large degree of truth to this.

We do not get a variety of educational offerings tailored to the different needs and preferences of children and their parents. We get a standardized, one-size-fits-all educational model.

And, as always with one-size-fits all models, state education in New Zealand now fits only a few children.

Who are those children?

They are children with well-off, well-educated parents.

Parents who can afford to buy a house near to a school that will do a good job for their child.

Yep our current system gives wealthy families a choice, but not poor families.

ACT thinks education should be provided in a market of competing suppliers. That has always been our position.

It does not mean that we are opposed to the state funding of education. Not at all. We share the almost universally accepted idea that all children should get a decent chance in life, whatever the circumstances of their birth.

But that doesn’t mean that the state must provide educations, that it must run schools.

This is key. There is a different between the state funding something, and providing it.

Government should make sure that every child gets an education by providing all parents with a voucher, redeemable at any school of their choosing. 

Vouchers would be a radical reform of the education system. And to a degree the results are unknown. In theory the choice should end up with much better outcomes for poorer students. But are all our schools set up to be self-managing and competing? What if half of them collapsed?

That is not a reason to reject vouchers. It is a reason to trial them. Then make decisions based on the evidence of whether or not they improved educational outcomes.

How about we pick three cites and towns. Turn those cities and towns into fully competitive voucher funded educational centres. And after five years assess the performance of students in those three cities and towns compared to the rest of NZ (in terms of relative change). If they have not improved, then scrap the trial. If they have shown significant improvement, then extend it to some further cities and towns. Make the decision based of actual evidence, not ideology.

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National’s potential electoral deals

June 12th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small writes:

 In the very strange case of Colin Craig and the Conservative Party, there is little doubt that John Key and his campaign maestro Steven Joyce are reluctant suitors.

Deal or no deal?

Welcome to John Key’s nightmare – or the closest you get to a nightmare when your party’s on 50 per cent and your opposition is fractured into five parts.

The prime minister has said he will announce a job-lot of deals with potential support parties in coming weeks.

On the face of it “arrangements” with all three make sense. In a tight race why throw away a chunk of Centre-Right support on your side of the fence, especially if Internet-Mana is going to vacuum up two or three seats on the other side?

Indeed.

Tactical voting is nothing new. In 1999 Helen Clark told Labour voters to vote for the Jeanette Fitzsimons in Coromandel. And last election the Greens told their supporters to vote for the Labour candidates in Auckland Central and Ohariu.

In the case of UnitedFuture, it is an easy equation.

Peter Dunne is a dream ally. He won’t go with the other side, causes only the occasional headache on principle each term, and has ministerial experience.

Even if you dump him he doesn’t go feral. And the chances are his party will poll so low that he will create an overhang seat – a net gain for the Right.

If a party gets below 0.4% then it is an overhang seat.

ACT and David Seymour in Epsom are slightly more problematic.

Seymour is earnest lobby fodder for National, his party is on the spectrum – as in the Right-wing one – and if he gets over the line there is a serious chance he will bring in another MP. However, the whiff of John Banks’ exit lingers in the air and there is an outside chance that Epsom voters will return the reluctant candidate Paul Goldsmith anyway.

And they have every right to do so.

I think Epsom voters will vote tactically, as they did previously. But the choice is up to them. National may say we are only seeking the party vote in an electorate – but they still stand a candidate, giving voters the choice. Epsom voters are not controlled by National. If they don’t want to tactically vote, then they won’t. All National will be doing is saying we’re happy for people to vote for the ACT candidate, as having ACT in Parliament means you get a National-led Government.

Which brings us to the third option, and the very strange case of Colin Craig and the Conservative Party.

There is little doubt that Key and his campaign maestro Steven Joyce are reluctant suitors.

But on the experience of 2011, Craig is likely to attract more votes than the other two combined.

So will National hold its nose and cut him a deal?

Well, the Conservatives have said they don’t want a deal.

Back in the here and now, Key is playing a much more equivocal game with the Conservatives than the other two parties.

Maybe there was an element of game-playing on Key’s part, but on Tuesday he noted Craig’s enthusiasm for a deal with surprise as he harked back to earlier comments from Craig that he was not seeking an accommodation and was confident of clearing the 5 per cent hurdle.

Another Stuff story reports:

National backbencher Mark Mitchell says Conservative Party leader Colin Craig is “dreaming” if he thinks he will be gifted his seat.

Craig, who was defeated by Mitchell in Rodney by 12,222 votes in 2011, said this week he expected to be offered a deal handing him one of the Rodney, Upper Harbour or East Coast Bays seats in the September election.

Based on current polls, if Craig wins an electorate seat, he would take one or two MPs with him into Parliament, helping National gain a majority.

They could get 4 MPs. They got 2.7% last time and 2.8% gets you four MPs.

I’d be amazed if there was any deal in Rodney or North Shore. It simply would never happen.

Ultimately I imagine the decision will come down to necessity. If the polls show National, ACT and United Future likely to be able to form a Government, then why deal with the Conservatives and risk electoral damage from a deal.

But if it looks like NZ First would hold the balance of power, then I’d say Colin Craig is a far more attractive option than Winston. You can trust Craig, but not Peters.

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ACT’s alternative budget

May 12th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

ACT have done an alternative budget, which is here.

The Herald reports:

Act Party leader Jamie Whyte has produced an alternative budget that would slash Government spending on what he calls “middle-class welfare” and “corporate welfare”.

He said cuts of $4 billion would allow the top personal rate of 33 per cent and corporate tax rate of 28 per cent to be cut to 24 per cent with a view to cutting them to 17.5 per cent by 2020.

Treasury estimates (roughly) that the cutting the 33% rate to 24% would cost $1.8 billion. Cutting the 30% rate to 24% would cost $0.8 billion. Cutting the company tax rate to 24% would cost $1.5 billion.  That’s a total cost of $3.9 billion.

Matt Nolan at TVHE is unimpressed with the alternative budget. Not so much with some of the specifics, but with the claim that this would increase economic growth from 3% to 5%. I agree with him that this is an unjustified assumption.

There is certainly a lot of evidence that over time, developed economies with a smaller proportion of economic activity taxed by the Government, will have a higher long-term growth rate. But it isn’t a magic wand that overnight lifts economic growth by a massive 2%.

The Herald continues:

Act would phase out Working For Families by 2020, lift the age of eligibility for superannuation to 67, cut Kiwsaver kickstart and the tax credit, scrap paid parental leave and parental tax credits, end climate change obligations and reintroduce interest on student loans.

“This spending confers private benefits on politically favoured groups.”

It took money off people in tax then gave it back to them if they fell into one of the Government’s favoured categories.

Dr Whyte said corporate welfare was “a kind of system corruption which compromises a nation’s commercial culture”.

Under capitalism, entrepreneurs were supported to solve their problems by themselves or go out of business if they don’t.

“Labour want them to jump on a plane to Wellington with their hand outstretched to pick the pocket of the ordinary taxpayer.”

Those agencies that would be spared cuts under Act include ACC, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, the GCSB and SIS, Corrections, Courts, Defence Force, Education Review Office, the Office of the Ombudsmen, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Police, Serious Fraud Office and Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.

Three Government agencies would be abolished: Women’s Affairs, Pacific Island Affairs and Tourism New Zealand.

Most government agencies would be required to spend less.

Education, for example, would have to function on 1 per cent less, saving about $24 million. Customs would have to save 2 per cent or $3.17 million.

Treasury would have $7 million cut from its policy advice budget.

The biggest savings would come from cutting funding programmes within the Science and Innovation portfolio, $659 million, and Economic Development, $281 million.

It has also budged for $291 million less for the Ministry of Primary Industries, $196 million less for the Ministry for the Environment, and $111 million less for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Interesting that ACT is saying money set aside for Treaty settlements should not be reduced.

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ACT proposes three strikes for burglaries

April 21st, 2014 at 7:50 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

More than 2000 families will return home this Easter weekend to find they have been burgled, and Act says it is the only NZ political party to offer a serious solution.

Party leader Jamie Whyte outlined its policy on the crime today, confirming that burglars will spend three years in prison if convicted of the crime for a third time under its policy.

Three years for a third strike sounds about right.

The maximum sentence for burglary is ten years imprisonment. The three strikes for burglary policy would send all burglars to prison for at least three years without parole if convicted of the offence three times, whether it be in one burglary spree or over many years.

The idea is that burglars stop burgling. With only 2% of burglaries resulting in imprisonment, then the risk of getting caught and convicted doesn’t outweigh the benefits of being a burglar.

Mr Whyte said burglars convicted of one or two charges of burglary will not see any change to their sentence, except that a judge would warn the offender of the serious penalty of another offence.

That’s a key thing. After the second strike they need to be aware that a third strike will result in a significant jail term.

Mr Whyte said currently about 4000 New Zealanders are sitting on a first strike, 32 on a second strike and no one has been convicted of a third strike offence under the three strikes for violent crimes policy.

That’s a great success. We don’t want people getting a third strike.

The policy is modelled on a three strikes for burglary law introduced in England and Wales in 1999. Burglary in England has since dropped by 35 per cent since the introduction of the three strikes. After a third conviction for burglary offenders in England are imprisoned for three years with parole.

So this is a policy introduced by the UK Labour Party. If National wins re-election I am optimistic they would agree to support this policy, if ACT make it a key policy for their support. NZ Labour will oppose it I suspect – as they also opposed the three strikes law for serious violent and sexual offending.

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Not quite right

March 27th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Richard Prebble writes in The Letter:

Maybe the Fairfax media is right that ACT will do exceptionally well. In the Herald poll ACT has gone from zero to .8%. As a percentage increase that is an infinite increase. Projected forward at that rate of increase ACT could govern alone. That statement is no sillier than the commentary the Herald has run on its poll. We are not trumpeting ACT’s spectacular rise because the margin for error in the poll is 3.5%. so ACT might already be on 3%.

That isn’t right. It is a common mistake.

The margin of error normally quoted in a poll is the maximum margin for a result of 50%. It is far less for smaller results such as 0.8%. In fact a 0.8% result for a poll of 1,000 has a margin of error of 0.6% so the 95% confidence range is 0.2% to 1.4%.

Evan at a 99.999999% confidence interval the margin of error for 0.8% is only 1.7%. There is no way at all ACT can be at 3%, just on sampling variation.

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Three strikes for burglaries

March 2nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young reports:

Burglars will be sent to prison for a minimum of three years without parole on the third burglary conviction under new policy announced today by Act leader Jamie Whyte.

A lot of people may be surprised to know that a very similar policy is the law of the land in the United Kingdom, and was passed by a Labour Government.

Under the UK law an adult burglar convicted of their third burglary must be given a sentence of at least three years in prison unless the court considered there to be “exceptional circumstances”. I’m unsure if the UK law is also without parole, but that appears to be the only possible difference.

So this proposal isn’t some far right extremist policy. It is a law put in place by a left-wing Government in the UK – just one that was hard line on law and order.

It is unclear how many people would be affected in New Zealand by such a law, and what the cost would be. ACT deserve some criticism for not having any estimates at all about impact and cost, but the UK experience suggests it may not be that great.

In 2012 there were 2,693 convictions for burglary (as the primary offence). Around 40% of them or 1,055 received a custodial sentence. That suggests repeat burglars are already mainly getting prison sentences.

How long is the average sentence for burglary, if custodial? A report to 2006 found an average sentence of around 15 months. This is for all custodial sentences for burglary. I imagine it is longer for those on their third conviction.

So there would be some costs associated with this policy, with more burglars in prison and for longer. The potential benefits though are that while in prison, recidivist burglars are not robing people’s homes, and also that the law may discourage recidivist burglars from carrying on.

A report in the Daily Telegraph found that from 2000 to 2008, only 3,018 people had been convicted of a third burglary. The burglary rate halved in the decade to 2010.

So what would be the expected number of third strike burglars in NZ, based on respective populations. They have around 15 times our population so one might expect over an eight year period 200 recidivist burglars to get a third strike. That suggests the costs of such a policy could be relatively modest.

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Whyte and incest

February 27th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Act Leader Jamie Whyte is standing by his comments that incestuous relationships between consenting adults should not be illegal and says it would be “intellectually corrupt” of him not to be honest when asked such questions.

In an article published on The Ruminatorwebsite, former philosophy lecturer Dr Whyte was asked whether the state should intervene if adult siblings wanted to marry each other.

“Well personally, I don’t think they [the State] should”, he replied, adding it was “a matter of almost no significance because it just doesn’t happen”.

Dr Whyte told the Herald his response was based on his belief that: “I don’t think the state should intervene in consensual adult sex or marriage, but there are two very important elements here – consensual and adult”.

“I wonder who does believe the state should intervene in consensual adult acts?”

He said he was “very opposed” to incest.

“I find it very distasteful I don’t know why anybody would do it but it’s a question of principle about whether or not people ought to interfere with actions that do no harm to third parties just because they personally wouldn’t do it.” …

His view was not Act policy and “nobody who votes for Act has anything to fear”.

I find it refreshing that a political leader will stand by his personal views, while making it clear they are not party policy. Whyte is a classical liberal. There are many areas of society where he thinks the Government should not play a role. He should not back away from his views. The media will go for the sensationalist headline, but he should maintain a position of saying “Yes this is my personal belief, but ACT is focusing on a b and c”.

Some ACT supporters will be uncomfortable with his views, but the public like someone who is genuine and doesn’t hide behind weasel words.

I can be persuaded either way on whether there is a need for incest between consenting adults to be a criminal offence.  There are good arguments for and against. But the reality is, as Dr Whyte said, that it is an almost non-existent issue in NZ and not an issue anyone will be casting their vote on.

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Prebble returns

February 23rd, 2014 at 1:31 pm by David Farrar

ACT have announced:

Former ACT leader Richard Prebble is returning to politics as the party’s Campaign Director for the 2014 election.

Acting party president Barbara Astill announced Richard Prebble’s appointment as Campaign Director after a board meeting yesterday.

“The appointment of Richard Prebble as Campaign Director means ACT goes into the election with the country’s best election strategist,” said Mrs Astill.

“Richard Prebble is a campaigning legend. He was the architect of ACT’s greatest campaigning victories, including taking ACT from a virtual zero in the polls in 1996 to winning Wellington Central and taking seven MPs into parliament. Under Richard ACT increased its vote in every election. As a Labour MP Richard won the biggest general seat majority in parliament not once but twice.

“Richard Prebble has presented the ACT Board with a campaign strategy to win not only the Epsom electorate but also nine MPs. The ACT Board has endorsed the Prebble campaign plan, which will be presented to the ACT Party Conference at the Villa Maria Estate, Mangere, this Saturday,” said Mrs Astill.

“I have come out of political retirement because Parliament needs at least one party willing to ask the question, where is the money coming from for all these political promises?” said Richard Prebble.

“ACT needed fresh leadership and new ideas. I urged Dr. Jamie Whyte to stand for the leadership. Jamie will take ACT back to the original principles of the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers which made ACT the effective third force in politics.

“I have been reading Jamie Whyte’s articles in the Wall Street Journal for years. He has an extraordinary knowledge of the world economy that will make him a very valuable member of parliament that any party would love to have.

“I have known David Seymour since he was a top engineering student at Auckland University. As someone educated in Epsom, David will be a very good MP for the electorate.

“ACT now has both the policies and the people. It is my job as director to ensure the voters learn about Dr. Jamie Whyte and ACT’s positive, practical solutions. The support will follow.

“A vote for ACT ensures not only that John Key remains Prime Minister, but that a future National-ACT government remains on the course of good financial sense.”

This is a very good move for ACT. Prebble is a very good campaigner, and will run a good campaign. But it also means signifies that some of the original founding fathers of ACT are solidly back on board. Having Prebble as Campaign Manager will give donors confidence that donations will be out to good use.

ACT are not going to get nine MPs. But if they can get at least two MPs (needs 1.2% just 0.1% more than last time) then that will give them an ongoing presence in Parliament and an ability to keep growing without the distractions of the past.

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A rebrand for ACT

February 23rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

ACT is to shrug off Rodney Hide’s canary yellow jacket with a bold new look to be unveiled at next weekend’s party conference.

New leader Jamie Whyte has opted to tone down the party’s signature colour to a more “muted” shade of yellow.

As in previous years, law and order lobby Sensible Sentencing Trust will be represented, with spokeswoman Ruth Money delivering a speech on “policies that work”. Whyte said that he backs tough deterrents but law and order is now not one of the party’s policy priorities.

Looks like they are rebranding both in terms of colour, but also in terms of policy focus.

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The new ACT Leader

February 3rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Audrey Young reports:

Dr Whyte, 48, has lived for about six of the past 20 years in New Zealand and Mr Seymour, 30, has lived for two of the past seven years in New Zealand.

Both have philosophy degrees and Dr Whyte has been a noted writer and columnist in Britain.

Dr Whyte lives in Herne Bay with his wife, Zainab, originally from west Africa and raised in Belgium, and their two daughters, Rachel, 10, and Khadija, 6.

(The girls attend the same school as the children of Labour Party leader David Cunliffe.)

Dr Whyte’s first few hours as new leader were marred by Mr Boscawen’s decision to withdraw not only his fundraising services to the party but by his threat to withdraw his own substantial donations, which have been at least $250,000.

Mr Boscawen said he accepted the result, and would remain a member of the party, and sincerely wished Dr Whyte and Mr Seymour every success.

Dr Whyte said he would spend the next month gearing up for his first party conference as leader, policy work, fundraising “and revving up the members”.

He said his previous writing promoting the legalisation of drugs, for example, had been of greater concern to Mr Boscawen than to the board.

Such a policy would be attractive to many voters, but not I suspect in Epsom!

Mr Cunliffe said it was ironic that a party that had been “dismissive of academics in Parliament had chosen two academics as their leader and candidate”. Referring to Dr Whyte’s advocacy of legalisation of drugs and getting rid of all labour laws, Mr Cunliffe said “that would put him in the realm of Colin Craig and show that Mr Key really is desperate for coalition partners”.

I’m pretty sure that Colin Craig is not an advocate for legalisation of drugs!

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Whyte and Seymour elected

February 2nd, 2014 at 4:23 pm by David Farrar

ACT have announced:

This morning the ACT Board met to choose the new leader and a candidate for Epsom.

The Board’s decision was made by a secret ballot, which was conducted by an independent auditor.

The Board is confident that its decision will give ACT its best chance of successfully contesting this year’s general election with a Leader and Epsom Candidate who can powerfully and positively share the Party’s vision with voters.

The new leader will assume the role at the Party’s AGM on the 28th of February, and until that time, will serve as the leader-elect.

It is my privilege to announce that the person who will stand as the ACT candidate for Epsom is David Seymour and the new leader of the ACT Party will be Dr. Jamie Whyte

The Board acknowledges that it had three outstanding candidates seeking selection and thanks all of them for their commitment, energy, and passion.

In particular, the Board wants to acknowledge Party President, Hon John Boscawen, who’s record of service to the Party in a variety of roles throughout ACT’s history is recognised and valued.

This is a brave, yet risky, decision.

On a personal level I’m pleased to see two strong classical liberals take up the two key roles, and this should mean that ACT is clearly positioned in the future as a classical liberal party, not a conservative party or some hybrid.

One has to pay tribute to John Boscawen who has stood with ACT through thick and thin. It was noble of him to offer himself for the leadership and Epsom, and it is understandable that he is stepping aside:

John Boscawen said he had resigned as Act President and would be reconsidering his financial support of the party.

He would no longer be fundraising for the party which he had done for four elections, but he would remain a member.

So ACT has a numbers of risks, as well as opportunities ahead. The risks are:

  • Difficult to attract funding
  • Not winning Epsom
  • Struggling for media attention as both Whyte and Seymour not particularly public figures

The opportunities are:

  • Can draw a line with the past, as leadership clearly passes to a new generation
  • A clearer identity as a classical liberal party
  • The potential to attract votes from younger urban liberals

With the funding issue, it is to early too know. I gather than quite a few of the traditional supporters wwere supporting Whyte so they may continue to get some money from them. But they will miss having Boscawen as their fundraiser, and may struggle to connect with some in the business community as Whyte and Seymour are both more from the academic side.

Winning Epsom is the big thing. Seymour is very capable and competent and I can’t imagine a scenario where he stuffs up. However Epsom is not a classical liberal electorate. It is fairly conservative in some ways. Epsom won’t vote for Seymour because he is very smart on policy issues. They will vote for him if they think doing so will help John Key remain Prime Minister, and they think he would be a good local MP. David should (and probably has) talk to Rodney about keeping Epsom onside.

Whyte will I believe be very good with the media, and in the minor party leadership debates. However until the campaign itself starts he may find it very difficult to gain media attention unless he says something very controversial (which may not be helpful). He needs to find around three key issues on which to brand ACT.

For Whyte to become an MP, he needs to lift ACT’s vote from 1.1% to 1.2%. Not impossible, but considering the brand damage over the last two years, a significant challenge. If both Whyte and Seymour can make it to Parliament, then ACT’s will have a future.

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ACT decisions

January 31st, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

David Seymour, 30, who is running only for the Epsom candidacy, has campaigned for ACT, headed its student body and spent years working for conservative think tanks in Canada. 

He was also the most popular with the crowd. 

“If that was a hair growing contest I would be home and hosed,” said Seymour, a tribute to his competitors’ shiny bald heads, to laughter from the crowd. 

And his youth does not mean he is not inexperienced, said Seymour, who spoke of his work with John Banks in formulating the partnership school policy. 

“I am closer to the median age of Epsom, which is 35, than both of these guys, and I am moving closer to it as I speak,” he said, again bringing laughter from the crowd. 

Seymour emphasised ACT’s role in lowering taxes and creating a safer New Zealand. 

I probably should have mentioned Seymour in my post earlier this week. Seymour is one of the brighter people in politics, is an excellent debater and like Whyte has excellent classical liberal credentials. If he does become an MP, he would be an excellent one.

But despite his clever trick with the median age (the relevant stat is the median age of the voting population, not the entire population), my concern is that the relatively conservative Epsom electorate might not be willing to vote for someone just out of his 20s, especially with 25% of the electorate Asian. That is why I said Boscawen was the obvious choice for Epsom.

However I understand that Jamie Whyte may also now stand for both the Epsom candidacy and for the leadership. That complicates things, and simplifies things.

A few in ACT have liked the idea of Boscawen for Epsom and Whyte for Leader. However they have said that the problem is it leaves the Leader reliant on another MP. Hence a lot of pressure has gone on for Whyte to stand for both.

But one woman, who would not be named, believed Seymour, whose forefather was one of the signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi, filled a demographic ACT lacks.

“I think the young chap would be ideal because he is part Maori. ACT is very short on Maori and women,” she said.   

I didn’t know that about Seymour.

Seymour is a popular figure in the party, and as the story states had the most support at the meeting. He has quite a few backers on the ACT Board.

So it seems there are six possible decision for the Board on Sunday. They are:

  1. Whyte for Leader and Epsom
  2. Boscawen for Leader and Epsom
  3. Whyte for Leader and Boscawen for Epsom
  4. Whyte for Leader and Seymour for Epsom
  5. Boscawen for Leader Seymour for Epsom
  6. Boscawen for Leader and Whyte for Epsom

I regard 5 and 6 as unlikely. Is Boscawen is Leader, I expect he will be the Epsom candidate also.

No 4 is what was being pushed by the Whyte/Seymour fan club. However concern over a split role may lead to No 1 happening if their supporters have the majority on the board.

No 3 I did regard as a credible outcome, but there seems to be concern over splitting the role.

No 2 is the outcome sought by Boscawen and his supporters.

I welcome comments from readers as to which combination they would prefer, and would the decision be enough to make you vote ACT?

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Epsom and the ACT Leadership

January 27th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

It’s pleasing to see three contenders going for either the ACT Leadership or the Epsom nominations. Both these decisions will be made by the ACT Board, and they are important decisions.

The first decisions is the easier one – the candidate for Epsom. I think the obvious and safe choice is John Boscawen.

Retaining Epsom is critical to ACT’s survival. No one thinks they can get 5% in 2014, so they must retain Epsom to stay in Parliament.

ACT did win Epsom in 2011, but a lot of feedback I got from National voters is they voted very reluctantly for the ACT candidate. One of them joked that it didn’t hurt as much as the thought it would.

I think centre-right voters in Epsom will have little reluctance to vote for John Boscawen. He is basically one of them. As Andrea Vance details, his story is from riches to rags to riches, and everyone who deals with him says he is an incredibly decent well motivated man who has managed to never burn any bridges with colleagues – which in the ACT Party is an extraordinary feat.

Epsom voters would be very comfortable with having John as their local MP. They know what they’ll be getting, and even if ACT’s brand today is somewhat bruised and battered, I think Boscawen can retain the seat for ACT. Any other candidate would be running a bigger risk of not winning.

So the Epsom decision is, I think, an easy one. The decision on the leadership is a harder one.

Again Boscawen would be a safe pair of hands for the leadership. He has been an MP, he would have a fairly united party, and you would not risk the problems of 2011 when the ACT Leader is pushing one policy (cannabis decriminalisation) and the Epsom candidate is fighting against it (knowing it would go down badly in Epsom).

However Jamie Whyte is a very attractive candidate. He is basically a pure classical liberal. In the televised minor party leader’s debates, he could well shine and attract back to ACT those who are both economically and socially liberal. Around 10% to 15% of the population or more find such a message appealing – the challenge is whether ACT as a party and brand can be credible to them. Whyte is free from the baggage of the past, so could be seen as the start of a new generation.

Of course the danger for Whyte is that if he is leader, he would only become an MP if ACT get at least 1.2% of the vote (they got 1.1% in 2011). So his job would be to make sure ACT get at least 1.2%. Boscawen’s would be to win Epsom.

But there are risks to splitting the jobs, as I detailed above. The safer route is Boscawen for both, and he is saying Kenneth Wang will be his Deputy Leader which could help attract Asian votes. They would need 2.0% to get a third MP, and that looks very challenging.

However the downside of Boscawen for both is that a generational change may not occur for some time, and may not be possible in the future. Whyte I think does have a greater ability to appeal to young urban professionals.

One other advantage of a split is if Whyte is Leader and Boscawen MP for Epsom, then my strong recommendation would be Whyte does not become a Minister. For a small party, best to keep the leader outside the Government focused on selling the party message. Boscawen hence could become a Minister if National is re-elected, helping implement ACT policies, while Whyte sells the party’s message.

So there are pros and cons for both Whyte and Boscawen for Leader. In the end it will come down to what appetite for risk the ACT Board is willing to consider, and if they think the potential benefits are realistic and outweigh the risks.

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SST on Jamie Whyte

January 19th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting profile on and interview of Jamie Whyte in the SST. Some extracts:

But you want some plain speaking? Here’s what he thinks of his putative future colleagues, the good members of the Parliament of New Zealand.

For some, he says, “shamefully, it’s just that it’s the best job they are capable of getting . . . they have no particular talents, somehow they have managed to get in with their party and get elevated and they are as happy as a pig in shit. Otherwise, they would be working in the food industry [think McDonald's] or cleaning.”

Still others, he says scornfully, are the ideology-free, poorly-read “Tory boy” types who think they are the “shepherds of society”.

Cheerful, convivial, entertaining company, clearly very intelligent, prone to the odd curse, Whyte is a youthful-looking 48-year-old father of two with a shaven head and tailored shirt.

He’s an unlikely pollie and of course, considers himself in neither of the categories described above. “I’m not a careerist politician. I am not doing this because I am desperate to be an MP.”

Whyte’s much purer motivation is ideas.

Which we need more of.

Actually, he’s an ACT natural, would never have fitted in National. He talks about how the state should be smaller, offer more freedoms. He hates the Greens (“watermelons, green on the outside, red on the inside”), disdains Cunliffe, likes John Key but is frustrated at what he sees as National’s tendency to accept Labour reforms when they take power.

For example, he’s “appalled” by Labour’s extension of welfare “deep into the middle classes”, saying it is a hugely inefficient way of recirculating people’s own money, and can’t understand why it hasn’t been rolled back.

Why, he wonders, are there more laws every year and not fewer: surely after 200 years of effective parliamentary democracy there shouldn’t be many stones left unturned? So we get intrusive, inconsistent legislation that leaves room for discretion. Such as? “If you take smacking . . .” A pause; frantic backpedalling. “No, I am not going there.”

Emphatically, he says, an ACT party led by Whyte would not go to war on Treaty issues. “I’ve got no interest in Maori-bashing as a political game.”

Good.

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Boscawen stands for Epsom and Leader

January 16th, 2014 at 5:31 pm by David Farrar

ACT President John Boscawen has just announced he will seek te ACT leadership and also the nomination for Epsom. John is a tireless worker for ACT, and highly respected. He may be seen as not enough of a break from the past, but will be seen as a very safe pair of hands who doesn’t play games.

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Hooton rules out Epsom and ACT

January 14th, 2014 at 8:08 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Right-wing lobbyist Matthew Hooton has ruled himself out from contesting the ACT party leadership.

He has joined former leader Rodney Hide in removing himself from the list of potential candidates in the past week.

In a column written for the National Business Review, Hooton said he was certain he would win the electorate if he stood, but felt he was too closely aligned to the National Party.

“If ACT is to succeed in the longer run, it must strongly differentiate itself from National, especially given the interventionist tendencies of the current regime, and it must be a genuine party, without any suggestion of being a subsidiary of the bigger brand,” he said.

Hooton endorsed a split configuration of former Cambridge philosophy-lecturer-turned-management-consultant Jamie Whyte as leader of the party, and David Seymour as the candidate for Epsom.

Hooton’s column is here.

Compared to Matthew’s current earnings, being an MP isn’t a living wage :-)

 

 

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Hide rules out Epsom

January 12th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Rodney Hide writes in the Hos:

Good and loyal friends have suggested that I put my name forward to be Act’s candidate in Epsom.

They have supported me over many years and therefore I have given their advice serious consideration.

It’s a crucial role. But for Act’s success in Epsom in 2008, Helen Clark would have remained Prime Minister. And its success in 2011 also kept Labour out of power.

That’s why the attacks on John Banks are so intense and sustained. Act’s success has proved the difference between a National-led Government and a Labour-Green one.

Very true. Without ACT both times, the Maori Party would have held the balance of power and may well have gone with Labour and the Greens.

Act provides a much-needed political counterweight to the other parties calling always for more government spending and ever-more regulation.

We need a champion for individual freedom and personal responsibility. Act is that champion.

Sadly, much bruised.

And now the position of Act candidate for Epsom is open again. I am very pleased Act has excellent candidates in prospect. I have concluded it can’t be me.

I now don’t have the necessary passion and enthusiasm to do the job well. Yes, I loved it and I gave it everything I had. And then some. But it’s gone now. I am not sure why that is. It just is.

There was a time when Winston Peters could rattle an entire government, bringing ministers to their knees. Now, even junior ministers get the better of him.

I think it’s sad. Peters appears like some aged rock star who has partied way too hard and is now up on stage trying to relive the glory days. Or perhaps a champion boxer who has stayed too long in the ring. I wouldn’t want that.

I thought the worst thing for Peters was getting dumped in 2008. No. The worst thing for Peters was getting back in 2011.

New MPs snigger at him. There was a time he would have swatted them down like flies.

Knowing when to go is important in politics.

I have a project under way in Christchurch. We have a third baby due in July. I have new and different challenges ahead.

Plus if Rodney stood again for Epsom, we’d lost him as a great columnist!

In a related story, Cameron Brewer (again) rules himself out for Epsom, but Matthew Hooton is listed as considering throwing his name in the ring saying ACT needs a generational change.

 

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The battle for Epsom

January 10th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A new beginning with a clean slate is the “best opportunity ACT has had in 17 years”, says David Seymour, who has all but confirmed he will put his hand up to be its candidate for Epsom.

Sole MP John Banks will stand down as the party’s leader in March and leave Parliament at this year’s election.

He is facing trial for allegations of knowingly filing a false electoral return.

Seymour, who has been living in Canada, had previously ruled out running for the position, but has confirmed his circumstances had changed and he was hoping to hand in his nomination by the end of next week.

He will be vying for the position against Jamie Whyte, who has also put his hand up to lead the party. But Seymour said it was his support for Whyte that played a role in him changing his mind.

“What’s changed is I’ve come back, I’ve met Jamie Whyte – I’m very impressed by him and I want to support him – but I’ve still got a few personal things to tidy up obviously.”

Seymour said he was not expecting to be leader, but would like to be the MP for Epsom.

“There’s a number of possible configurations, one is that a single person is the Epsom candidate and a leader of the party. Or those two roles could be split.

“Outside of those two roles, we’re hoping that ACT will actually get a number of MPs in [to Parliament] and so that’s the proposition.”

Whyte has also written to party members asking for their support to be Epsom candidate and leader. His letter reads:

Dear ACT member,

You will have read that I have put my name forward to be the leader of ACT and the candidate for Epsom, positions which need not be held by the same person. I am writing to you to introduce myself and explain why I believe I can be an effective leader of ACT.

ACT is a party of principle, not a lobby group for “rich pricks” or anyone else. It needs a leader who is a credible advocate of our principles and policies. Over the last 10 years I have consistently made the case for individual liberty under the rule of law in opinion columns for the Wall Street Journal and The Times (among other papers), in my recently published book Quack Policy and as a pundit on British radio and TV. On the basis of this work, in 2012 I was made a fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs and a senior fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. To give you an idea of my ideas, I attach to this email a PDF of Free Thoughts, a collection of my columns published last year by the Adam Smith Institute.

The rest of my professional career also supports my credibility on economic and social policy. I began my post-student life as a philosophy lecturer at Cambridge University. I then moved to London to work as a management consultant with Oliver Wyman, a firm specializing in banking strategy.  I ended my third stint with the firm in 2013, having become Head of Research and Publications. My time in consulting means that, unusually for a philosopher, I know a lot about business, both its theory and its practice.

ACT has fallen to less than 1% support nationally. It needs renewal. Among other things, that requires new and younger faces. I am a sprightly 48, with a wife and two daughters, 10 and 6. My profile in New Zealand is now low. But given my experience in the British media, I am confident that I can quickly change that, especially if chosen to lead ACT. Below is a link to a TV3 News item on me.
http://www.3news.co.nz/Philosopher-contemplates-ACT-leadership-role/tabid/1607/articleID/324090/Default.aspx

Finally, there has been some mis-reporting of my nationality. For the record, I am not English. I was born in Auckland to Kiwi parents and lived here until finishing my BA at Auckland University. Since then I have lived in many countries but mainly England. My family and I lived in Auckland from 2004 to 2008 and we are now back for good. 

Regards,
Jamie 

His columns make excellent reading, and they are included below.

Free Thoughts

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Will it be Whyte for ACT for Epsom?

December 17th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Don Brash, the man who forced Rodney Hide out of his job as Act leader, approached him recently to urge him to return to the party leadership and to run for Act in Epsom.

Dr Brash told the Herald that Mr Hide was not interested at the time but the approach was made before current leader John Banks announced he would step down in February and would not stand at the 2014 election.

Mr Hide has been uncharacteristically silent on the issue, refusing to rule himself out or say whether he is considering it.

I doubt Rodney is that masochistic.

Act president John Boscawen said last night there had been only one nomination so far, that of Jamie Whyte, who has recently returned from Britain where he was a management consultant for Oliver Wymann and the Boston Consulting Group. He is also a former foreign currency trader and a former philosophy lecturer at Cambridge University.

A bid for the seat has been ruled out by Mr Boscawen, former president Catherine Isaac and former Auckland Central candidate David Seymour.

Trying to retain the seat without an existing public profile would be very challenging.

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The next ACT leader

December 5th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Talk about a new right wing political party is being revived amid the latest body blow to ACT after leader John Banks was sent to trial over electoral fraud allegations.

Banks announced yesterday he would step down as leader in March and former leader Rodney Hide is being actively courted to step into his shoes by some high profile members, including the man who rolled him, Don Brash.

Brash confirmed last night he had tried to convince Hide to return to the national politics and said the former Epsom MP was the best chance of saving the party.

“From my perspective there are few politicians or former poiticians who can express the views of the centre right on economic issues moreNew  clearly than Rodney can.”

Party insiders confirmed there was support within the organisation for Hide to return. But Hide is less keen – he is said to have rebuffed all approaches so far.

Former British based right wing commentator Jamie Whyte, a rising star in the party, last night confirmed he was throwing his hat into the ring for both the leadership and he Epsom nomination.

There has also been speculation about lobbyist and right wing columnist Matthew Hooton, who confirmed he had been approached by a number of people yesterday who were “concerned”  about the state of centre-right politics.

But Hooton said he had other priorities currently including his family and business and sources said it was unlikely.

Hooton also writes on this issue saying NZ needs a new Bob Jones. The Herald canvasses a longer list of possibilities:

Catherine Isaac: The former party president is ruling out standing for Epsom. But she won’t comment on whether she would consider the leadership.

Jamie Whyte: The formerly British-based journalist made an appearance at ACT’s conference. He now lives in New Zealand and has confirmed he is in the running.

Matthew Hooton: The lobbyist has ambitions to be an MP and joked in his weekly column about standing for ACT in Epsom, where he lives. His natural home is National but he was uncharacteristically tight-lipped yesterday.

Cameron Brewer: The Auckland councillor and former press secretary to Jenny Shipley did not return calls yesterday. The 40-year-old ruled out standing for ACT at the 2011 election, saying he was in no rush to get to Wellington.

Chris Simmons: The former party president and management consultant was ranked seventh on the party list at the last election. Earlier this year he was said to be eyeing the blue-ribbon electorate of Pakuranga.

David Seymour: A policy wonk and former ministerial adviser to John Boscawen, ranked 6th in 2011. But the 30-year-old has built a successful career in Canada.

Rodney Hide: A former leader rolled by Don Brash. Brash said yesterday he would endorse Hide’s return, but the self-styled perk-buster is understood to be not interested.

It will be interesting to see who stands.

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Banks not to stand in 2014

December 4th, 2013 at 10:40 am by David Farrar

ACT have announced:

Today, Hon John Banks, MP for Epsom and leader of ACT, has announced that he will not be seeking re-election in the 2014 General Election.  John has decided, after 36 years of public service, that it is time for him to spend more time on his family and his private business interests.  In the meantime, John will continue as the MP for Epsom and Leader of ACT.

As part of its candidate selection process for general elections, the Board of ACT will shortly be opening nominations for candidates to stand for ACT in the 2014 General Election.  We have a number of very talented potential candidates and we expect to name our key candidates, including a new candidate for Epsom, by the time of our annual conference in early March.

An inevitable decision. I can’t see ACT able to hold Epsom unless someone with a proven track record of local support such as Cameron Brewer stood for them.

UPDATE: Banks has said he will stand down as Leader at the conference in March 2014.

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Young on boundaries

October 24th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young writes in NZ Herald:

The electoral gods could well be shining on Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.

One of the two biggest areas of growth in Auckland has been in his own backyard on the North Shore and that means a new electorate seat could be created virtually around him.

If National stood a low-profile candidate rather than a heavyweight like List MP Steven Joyce, and Prime Minister John Key gave voters a steer in the right directions, Craig could be well-placed to take a new seat.

That would provide National with a new potential support partner to replace or supplement the ones that have been self-destructing since the last election: Act whose leader John Banks resigned as a minister last week, United Future whose leader Peter Dunne was forced to resign in June, and the Maori Party.

As I have said before National have five potential support partners – ACT,, United Future, Maori Party, Conservatives and NZ First. What we don’t know is how many of them will make it, how many can actually work with National, and how many will National need to be in the running to form a third term Government.

Key this week dismissed New Zealand First leader Winston Peters as someone who talked in more riddles than the Mad Hatter. Hardly the behaviour of a Prime Minister who expects to be propped up by Peters after next year’s election.

Key called it straight. It is far from certain that National will change its stance on NZ First. I’m not saying they won’t change – just that it is dangerous to make that assumption at this stage. I expect a decision would be made around the middle of 2014.

There will definitely be one new electorate created in Auckland after the census figures were announced last month and Craig told the Herald yesterday that he would most likely stand in the seat if it is in his patch – he lives on the border of East Coast Bays and Rodney.

“It would be very, very nice for us. We know it’s a good area for us. It would be very nice if the seat ended up here,” he said.

“If it works out that they go for the electorate that has grown the largest, which is Upper Harbour, and put a new electorate in there, I’m going to be living in it so it’s going to be all very convenient.”

If the Conservatives are polling enough to get four or more MPs, then centre-right voters in a new seat could well vote tactically.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, too, is known to be considering standing in an Auckland seat – and the new seat would have to be a possibility or a vacancy if Murray McCully were to shift to the list from East Coast Bays – a repeated rumour.

When asked to comment on the Conservatives and the new seat Peters said: “Elephants don’t run round the forest stomping on ants.”

Peters was too chicken to stand in a seat in 2011, so I don’t expect he will risk failure.

National pollster and Kiwiblog commentator David Farrar says things are looking good for the Conservatives.

“Even before you get into any political deals, the way the census has happened, actually, is very happy for the Conservatives, assuming that’s where the new seat is.”

Farrar also believes there is no need for the “cup of tea” photo opportunity to send signals to voters.

“Generally voters, if they want a centre-right or centre-left Government, can work out what’s the smart thing to do. So if there was a seat and Colin Craig was standing for it and they are polling 3 per cent in the polls and the candidate for National is a worthy but low-profile person, you could well see Conservatives do very well there without needing any sort of arrangement.”

Centre-right voters tend to be pretty intelligent. They don’t want a Government that will tax and spend, borrow more, nationalise companies etc. They will vote for minor party candidates if that helps stop a Labour/Green/Mana Government.

Farrar believes that if Banks lost his judicial review against going to trial and then lost the trial as well, he would not only be kicked out of Parliament as required under the law, it would finally destroy Act as well.

“I think the brand would be too damaged.”

A party can not survive its leader and sole MP losing his seat due to a conviction over electoral matters. Note I am not saying I think Banks will lose. Andrew Geddis has a very useful blog post on this issue which is worth reading. The key para for me:

I can’t for the life of me see why Banks would have sat down and thought something along the lines of “Dotcom and Sky City have given me all this money, but I don’t want anyone to know that they did and so I’ll deliberately lie about where it came from in my return even though I know that it is completely illegal to do so.” He was, after all, the losing candidate  in the mayoral race. Why would anyone have cared who gave him money, and why would he feel the need to make a decision to hide its source after the campaign was over? So any sort of claim that Banks deliberately or maliciously sought to evade the requirements of the Local Electoral Act strikes me as deeply implausible.

This is key – Banks had lost. There was little, if any gain, in not declaring the donations.

 

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Where to for ACT

October 18th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Does ACT have a future after its leader was committed to trial over his 2010 Mayoral election return?

Well firstly it depends on the outcome of the court case. If he loses, and is convicted, then his seat in Parliament is automatically vacated. That means a by-election in Epsom, and unless ACT stood an incredibly popular candidate (such as Cameron Brewer) then they would not win the by-election and be out of Parliament. I think that would be the end of the party, which would dissolve. That may create an opportunity for a new party in time, but probably not until 2017 at the earliest.

The fact the Solictor-General is looking at taking over the prosecution is somewhat ominous.

If Banks wins, then he remains in Parliament, and becomes a Minister again. However that does not mean plain sailing.

Banks defence is basically that he signed a legal declaration of his election expenses and donations, but didn’t read it. That may mean he legally didn’t willfully break the law, but it’s an awful look.  If his non-reading had occurred as a parliamentary candidate, that would be fatal. He is slightly saved by the fact that when he signed the return he though his political career was over. But regardless of timing, it looks bad. As I said previously, it is bad to be personally involved in receiving two donations and then sign a return saying he doesn’t know who his donors were. It may be legal (as Len’s trusts were), but is the public concerned just about legality?

Even if Banks wins, it is hard to see him winning Epsom again. Having said that ACT have won it three elections in a row, when almost no one thought they would or could.

If there is a by-election, then I would expect National to win it easily. Epsom voters are not going to vote for giving the Maori Party the balance of power or worse a Labour-Greens Government. Paul Goldsmith would become the MP for Epsom and Jo Hayes would become a List MP.

So I don’t see big issues for the Government before the general election, except for a possible distracting by-election campaign.

The bigger challenge is the next general election. National has five potential coalition partners, and none of them are ideal – and probably more than one of them will be needed. The five potential partners are:

  1. ACT – very reliable in a voting sense and pushes National into areas most of its supporters want. But not likely to be back.
  2. United Future – also a reliable and stable partner, even though more inclined to vote independently on non-core issues. But will Dunne stand again, and would he win?
  3. Maori Party. They will be back with at least one seat, probably two. A third is possible – a list seat if they get over 2% party vote. However they have never had to choose between a National and Labour led Government. They could well choose to go with Labour. And if they do choose National, their policy demands could be unpopular.
  4. Conservatives. It is hard to see them making 5% but they could well make 2.8% and get four seats if they win an electorate. If a new Auckland seat is in an area where they have some strong support, then the lak of an incumbent National MP could see centre-right tactical voting to get them in. The downside is that if this looks likely it might scare some socially liberal voters to Labour. Against that, most of the core issues for the Conservatives are conscience issues and not something likely to be part of any coalition agreement (except maybe to agree to no further law changes in certain areas). I can’t see any possibility of repealing same sex marriage, prostitution, abortion laws etc. Maybe the anti-smacking law could go as a policy victory for them?
  5. NZ First. Winston hates John Key and wants utu on him, The jury is out on whether the bigger utu is to sack John Key or make him subservient to him. Either option is rather unpleasant to contemplate. But you can’t rule out a deal if a National-NZ First majority is possible and a centre-left Government is only possible if the Greens are part of it.

So National does have options if ACT goes, but they are not great options. But politics is the art of the possible!

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