Can’t escape the “hard-right” tag
No-one ever believes their own views are extreme. It’s always “common sense”. Sir Roger Douglas thinks his recently released agenda is “common sense”—not “hard right”. But you know, I’m sure the Greens think they have “common sense” too.
The point here isn’t to question whether or not Sir Roger’s plans have sound theoretical basis. It is the nature of economics, as it is with all the social sciences, that questions cannot be definitively answered. Most economists, though, would accept that economic opinions can, for the most part at least, be modelled on a spectrum, from state control on the left to the free market on the right. The thing is, everyone sits somewhere on the spectrum further left than him. He must have realised that no-one is advocating more of a free market than he is.
This doesn’t make it “wrong”, but one must realise that at the heart of his agenda is an ideology. That is what the far ends of the spectrums are: ideologies. His policies are well-reasoned, just like every other policy (except perhaps John Key’s) is well-reasoned—communist ideologies being no exception. Whether they stand up to practice is more difficult to answer, but the heart of his policies is a firm belief that a more efficient economy benefits everyone, and no less for the poor than the rich. It is this firm belief that characterises those far-right on the economic spectrum.
But when were no-condition, no-catch universal benefits like that ever true? The unfortunate reality is that there always is a trade-off, some winning and some losing. Better always means worse for some. It is this understanding that separates those towards the centre from those on the sides. Sir Roger is effectively advocating that the free market can work for everyone. In return for low taxes, he wants people to cover themselves for everything. As much as he seeks to deny it, that by definition is hard right.
The heavy irony rests in the fact that while Act has realised the opportunity arising from a left-moving National, seizing on the moment to separate its policies from theirs, Act can only realistically seek a place in a National-led government. Meanwhile, National is doing is very best to attract centrist voters. While it might be true that a vote for Act is a vote for National, this could cause a backlash when centrist voters realise that it works in reverse too: that a vote for National is a vote for Act.
Centrists tend not to like ideological visions, preferring realistic policies instead. Wary of pure market policies like Sir Roger’s, voters may think twice about gifting their vote to National. That the policies they get may not be the policies they vote for, because of Act. It creates opportunities for a fear-driven Labour campaign, not unlike the “Gone by Lunchtime” campaign in 2005, with but a subtle difference in target.
While polls currently position National to govern alone, this never happens come election time, not in an MMP system. National, having gained lots of swing voters from Labour, is now in the awkward position of having to decide whether it will appease its centrist support base, or be prepared to make concessions to Act after the election. Key says now that he won’t be “held hostage to a radical right-wing agenda”, but what if his ability to form a government depends on it?