John Armstrong: Votes before friends, so the boot goes in

ACT leader Rodney Hide. Photo / Mark Mitchell
ACT leader Rodney Hide. Photo / Mark Mitchell

So National and Act are allies, right? Anyone who was not aware this is the case could have been excused thinking otherwise had they sat through Act's annual conference at the weekend. The old proverb that my enemy's enemy is my friend does not seem to be part of Rodney Hide's election-year script.

Labour got hardly a mention as speaker after speaker instead lashed National, be it for pandering too much to Maori, or for taking the easy political options when it came to managing the Government's accounts.

The phrase "living beyond our means" cropped up time after time as MPs current and former slammed National for adopting a "spend, borrow and hope" approach to fiscal management and stimulating growth.

With the Government borrowing at an "unsustainable" rate of $300 million a week, they warned, creditors could soon be banging on the door and dumping the country into the same rubbish bin as economic basket cases such as Greece and Ireland.

In saying the country is broke, Act is going for broke.

It has to do so, as it has been polling as low as 0.5 per cent.

Act is using the vast cost of rebuilding Christchurch after its earthquake and the looming oil shock to engender a sense of crisis to which it alone is seen to be responding in any responsible fashion.

By arguing that John Key and Bill English no longer have any choice but to chop spending, Act is targeting those voters who believe National has become too timid to tackle real reform and too willing to dollop out cash as means of dealing with political nuisances.

Act's new policy allowing mineral prospecting and ultimately mining in national parks would seem to take this "whatever National doesn't do we'll do" strategy to the extreme.

Where Labour did get a mention, it was only for its "truly dopey" polices - as guest speaker Don Brash put it - which National was too afraid to abolish.

Brash, too, had few kind words for National or for his successor as that party's leader.

Some might argue it is relatively easy for Act to call for wholesale cuts in Government spending because the people the party is targeting for votes are wealthy enough not to suffer the consequences.

But to be fair, Act is targeting spending on things such as New Zealand First's SuperGold card, which is not income-tested, access to Working for Family income supplements for the well-off, interest-free student loans to the sons and daughters of the rich and free childcare for high-income earners.

It was always the case that by dragging National well to the centre, John Key would free up room for Act on National's right.

Act is finally taking advantage of that - and with a vengeance.

Neither is there anything new in bagging your partner in Government. National will be surprised only by the sudden nature of the onslaught.

The trick for Hide is to do the bagging without being seen to be destabilising the Government as a whole.

That is something which would result in Act being punished heavily come November.

- NZ Herald

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