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The means to the Conservatives ‘eNZ’

Tim Sturm sees some interesting parallels between the British Tory Party and the New Zealand National Party.

UK Conservatives concerned with the current leadership battle might take note of similar events in New Zealand, where the NZ equivalent, the National Party, has just voted in Don Brash1, former Governor of the Reserve Bank, and a classical liberal, as its new leader.

The similarities between National and the Conservatives are many:

  • National has been the dominant party since at least WWII and considers itself the natural party of government

  • It is currently floundering in the polls in its second consecutive term in opposition
  • It is unable to counter the lefty backlash against the ‘Thatcherite’ reforms of the 80’s and 90’s and is apparently unwilling or unable to articulate any clear policies or principles.
  • It appears to be self-destructing through infighting and ineffectual leadership.

Hopefully much of this is about to change.

The elevation of Brash to the leadership role can be seen as a firm pronouncement of principle, even if a reluctant one for some. Brash is not necessarily the best politician in the tactical sense, but he is certainly the highest profile man of principle the party has.

For instance, he is unashamedly supportive of the earlier reform programme. His central bank reforms were a key part of that programme and became a model (albeit flawed) for central banks around the world.

What’s more, his principles are generally quite good. In his maiden parliamentary speech, he said:

People are generally in the best position to make decisions for themselves and their families. This argues for the maximum amount of freedom for the individual.

(Brash also, incidentally, subscribes to and has occasionally written for The Free Radical, New Zealand’s premier libertarian magazine).

National has finally therefore drawn a clear dividing line with the ruling Labour government, which is staunchly antagonistic to the earlier reforms and to free markets in general.

It remains to be seen whether this attack of principle will be successful in lifting National out of the poll doldrums. Frankly I do not care about that. The long term future of conservative politics lies in principles, not in random shifts of sentiment that National and the UK’s Conservatives have been hoping for.

I only hope the Conservatives are watching.

Tim Sturm

1 = The linked article overstates Brash’s ‘social conscience’. Brash has written extensively for a reduction in the size of the welfare state. See for example here.

6 comments to The means to the Conservatives ‘eNZ’

  • snide

    You think the UK Conservatives can learn from something? Well, I doubt their brain cells could handle that (all 166 of them… Letwin has two brain cells which makes him twice as smart as anyone else in the parliamentary party)

  • “It is unable to counter the lefty backlash against the ‘Thatcherite’ reforms of the 80’s and 90’s and is apparently unwilling or unable to articulate any clear policies or principles.”

    – reforms which were introduced by David Lange and Roger Douglas, respectively prime minister and finance minister of the, um, Labour government then in power. National under Rob Muldoon back in the 70s were the most statist party imaginable outside the communist sphere. They had a policy called ‘Think Big’, which involved sinking vast quantities of public money into white elephant showpiece projects designed to ‘kickstart’ the economy they were busy destroying.

    So don’t hold your breaths.

  • Alastair Jardine

    Hang on a minute! There is a lefty backlash against the reforms – even though they were implemented first by a Labour government (it’s not even really a backlash since the true leftists were always opposed to them). At the time of the reforms a minority of free marketers held sway within the Labour party. Later the left majority in the party outsted them and repudiated their policies so that they could recapture the left vote. Labour, now in power again, redicules the reforms even though they have largely left them intact.

    National really is a conservative party at heart. Like all conservative parties they are intellectually vacuous apart from what they borrow from individualist and free market political philosophy. Those strands of thought came into prominence within the National party, after the Labour reform government of the 80s, in the form of Ruth Richardson in the early 90s. She carried on the reforms a bit untill the party got scared and returned to being mostly conservative for the remainder of the 90s. Labour then came into power on a Third Wave empowerment trip and ….. didn’t do much. Don’t get me wrong, they suck and have done bad things, but they really haven’t rocked the boat. New Zealanders like governments that just keep things going smoothly, Labour undertands this.

    The original small group of reformers founded the ACT party in the early 90s when it became clear the two big parties were wussing out on continuing the reforms. They are in parliament now, wetting their pants with joy that Don Brash is in charge of National. Everyone else is decrying the ‘massive shift to the right’, and the ‘return to the failed policies of the 80s’.
    The situation here isn’t looking good for the right. Most of the right-leaning public is conservative, not free-market. The right vote is very fractured. In parliament it’s represented by four parties: New Zealand First – zenophobic, nostalgic for the good old days, pragmatic; United Future – pragmatic, christain conservative, constantly appeals to ‘common sense'; National – conservative, ‘natural party of government mentality’, slightly free market, slightly individualistic; and finally ACT – blunted classical liberalism, free market, individualistic.
    The worst thing is that only National and ACT cooperate. New Zealand First doesn’t want anything to do with the other parties, and United Future is absolutely Center; they’ll support anyone except the Greens.
    And of course the only proper party for government, the Libertarianz, hasn’t got a hope in hell of getting into Parliament. But one of our former members is there now as an ACT member, this demonstrates their relative goodness. I think it’s only a matter of time before ACT is in government with National, and once in there I think they’ll do some good.

  • Brian

    “…ruling Labour government… is staunchly antagonistic to the earlier reforms and to free markets in general.”

    This doesn’t ring true. If it were, then those reforms wouldn’t still largely be in place and the NZ economy wouldn’t be doing as well as it is.

  • Tim Sturm

    Brian

    Many of the reforms *are* no longer in place.

    Here are just a few examples: tougher employment legislation, tax increases, direct investments in business (Kiwibank, Air New Zealand recapitalisation, Tranz Rail), the Govt superannuation fund, the renationalisation of workplace accident insurance (ACC), school zoning, ‘smokefree’ legislation.

    The economy is doing OK (not well, just OK) in spite of Labour’s actions, not because of it. Labour has been incredibly lucky that market downturns elsewhere have increased the economic attractiveness of NZ. The effect of its policies are eventually likely to prove extremely negative.

    In any case, you don’t need to look at Labour’s actions to see their antagonism to the reforms and to free markets, just listen to them for five minutes. “Discredited policies of the past” has become their mantra.

  • Guy Herbert

    “Like all conservative parties they are intellectually vacuous…”

    Not, necessarily, all that bad a thing. Better stasis than the abyss. A government that’s opposed to change is preferable one with an actively evil programme, and to one that drifts at our peril.