Monday, January 03, 2005

A morality act

Just going through my mail. Apart from the usual fanmail (Genesis power bill looks more like Revelations, motor vehicle licensing demands an ACC levy without the chance of a no-claims bonus), there was the annual Act Members' poll.

Each year, the poll asks members to rank the importance of general issues from a national and personal perspective. There are two new issues to choose from in the poll this year; constitutional arrangements and... public morality. I had to double-take when I read that. At first, I thought some fool had signed me up to United Future for a laugh. Nope. Act's logo, complete with the catch-cry The Liberal Party, sat at the top of the page.

What on earth is happening when the Liberal Party thinks public morality is a concern up there with Health, Education and Welfare? My guess is the conservative liberals insisted on putting it in. After all, polls are self-fulfilling prophesies and including public morality is a way of inserting the concept into the political subconscious.

Just as Labour can be divided into wets and drys (sic), Act can be split into two camps which I call the Libz and the Rabids. The Libz are the principled Act members who accept that liberalism is a coin with two sides. Personal freedom and responsibility is consistently supported whether it is social or economic in nature. Richard Prebble was the leader of the pack, until Rodney took over the helm last year. Other members include Deborah Coddington, Heather Roy, and Ken Shirley.

The Rabids are headed by Muriel Newman. Her elevation to Deputy Leader was obviously a power-play to keep the Libz in check by the Rabids. Other members include Stephen Franks and Gerry Eckhoff (Donna Awatere Huata's position in the Rabids has been transferred to Kenneth Wang). They are characterised by a strong theory of liberalism that is not reflected in practise. For example, see how they voted on social issues here.

This split in the party is the one thing that may fatally damage Act's election chances this year. While the Labour and National parties are broad churches, niche parties such as Act, the Greens, NZ First and United Future cannot afford the luxury of ideological dysfunction. It confuses the punters.

When public morality appears on the annual poll, I start to seriously ponder what direction Act is heading. I would like to vote Act and keep the experienced, vocal and hard-working team in parliament. However, unless it can get its shit sorted and work out what it stands for (liberalism or Nats-in-drag), Act will not survive.