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October 2, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Politics With Pual – Smoking Brash

It was clear that Brash would have to take note of the Green Party approach after receiving a less-than-lukewarm response in his attempt to revive 2005’s rhetoric on race.

However, rather than following Russell Norman’s cue in focusing on economic strategy, Brash instead turned his focus towards something that not even the Greens are prepared to discuss this year, demonstrating his lack of political instinct by blundering his way into the cannabis debate.

The move was plainly one made in desperation. Having taken the ACT leadership with optimistic projections of taking 15 per cent of the party vote, the Brash-led incarnation has consistently polled around 2 per cent; a figure that without the lifeline thrown to them in Epsom by National, would see the flailing Party delivered into the jaws of oblivion.
Then, after releasing the party list with its conspicuous third-place vacancy, deputy leader John Boscawen announces he’s out, apparently “to spend more time with his family”; time with whom he was willing to sacrifice just over a month ago when he accepted a place on the list.

So, there’s a deputy leader who has presumably seen the figures, done the maths, and fled; a consequent additional vacant spot at number two to accompany number three; and a Party that retains not one of its current MPs.

So Brash turns to weed.

To be sure, Brash clearly stated his intention when he took the leadership reins, to move ACT back towards its founding principles, of which individual freedom is paramount. Decriminalisation of cannabis, while reeking of populism, is certainly indicative of Brash pursuing that agenda. However, when such a policy comes out of the blue as it has, and is so at odds with Rodney Hide’s ‘tough on law and order’ approach that has come to define the ACT Party, one can only conclude that Brash momentarily forgot there was an election looming.

The fact is, ACT’s support isn’t based primarily in libertarian thought, at least as far as social policy is concerned. ACT the brand appealed to socially conservative and economic liberal right-wingers, and in this election at least, was best poised to siphon off that section of the National vote who felt the Government hadn’t gone far enough on the economy, law-and-order, and to a lesser extent, race.

And then there’s the fact that Brash failed to reveal his plans to John Banks; the manifestation of the leader’s only chance of getting back into Parliament this November. Banks, a strong social conservative and a more instinctual politician, was quick to repudiate the proposal realising that Epsom won’t buy into any policy that is ‘soft on drugs’ despite the arguments to be made for decriminalisation. The result has been an inconsistency in message that indicates ACT 2011 2.0 continues to be characterised by the same factionalism as the current parliamentary cohort.

There’s not one benefit to be had from Brash’s announcement. The Epsom crowd now see Brash as a supporter of decriminalisation. On the flipside, the libertarian crowd also won’t be fooled into believing that ACT would actually advocate decriminalisation in Parliament, especially an ACT Party with John Banks in it.

Is it all over then? There’s little chance in reviving the party under Brash now, and more than likely the way forward is now for Banks to roll Brash. Two leadership transitions in a year would be damaging for any party, but Banks still has the profile to win Epsom, and will be aided by that dirty little deal with National. Either way, ACT seems to be effectively finished. Banks is National in all but name and will no doubt fall in line with the rest of that party’s faithful.

The upshot is of course that New Zealand politics may now finally find itself entirely free of that intellectually bankrupt neoliberal septuagenarian cohort.

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