Ideology hindering alliances

LIAM HEHIR
Last updated 14:16 31/03/2014

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OPINION: The would-be alliance between Mana and the Internet Party is kaput. However, it does get one thinking about whether there are other parties that would be suited to such a union of convenience. On paper, I think ACT and the Conservatives would be a good match - for reasons I will get into later.

We are not talking about outright amalgamation of the parties here. Under the Electoral Act 1993, parties may unite behind a single list as "component" parties of a larger political entity for election purposes. This enables them to pool their votes while retaining a separate identity. They can even run their own constituency candidates in electorates.

An example of this is the Alliance. As the name implies, the party was originally a coalition of smaller parties - including New Labour, the Greens and Social Credit. While they campaigned together, the constituent coalition members retained their separate identities, structures and organisations for some time.

The potential appeal to Mana and the Internet Party of an alliance is obvious enough. For the Internet Party, it would provide access to the MMP life raft of an electorate seat (assuming Hone Harawira retains Te Tai Tokerau). For Mana, it would be a means of electing Mana list candidates to Parliament through the supposed voter appeal of Kim Dotcom.

Negotiations appear to have foundered through a lack of ideological common ground. Mana's philosophy is essentially Marxist. The Internet Party does not really appear to have one.

A similar dynamic exists between ACT (which holds an electorate seat) and the Conservatives (which is the better polling party). The electoral self-interest is there. However, would an alliance between them also be ideologically problematic?

While both are to the right of National, they are in very different ways. Conservative leader Colin Craig primarily campaigns as a traditionalist on moral and social issues. ACT's leader Jamie Whyte, on the other hand, is about as far away from Craig as you can get. A doctrinaire libertarian, his most notable contribution to political debate so far has been his musings about the moral permissibility of incest.

However, in the wake of last year's gay marriage law, the parties should be able to work together (if as co-belligerents rather than true allies). Even in the United States, where their ideology is much stronger than it is here, conservative leaders are concluding that they have lost the political argument on social and moral issues. As the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat put it, the best conservatives can now hope for is to negotiate the terms of their own surrender.

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Picture Craig's Conservatives winning 5 per cent of the vote and thus getting into Parliament. Moreover, imagine the National Party needing them to govern. Even in those circumstances, can you really see them being able to achieve (for example) the repeal of the gay marriage law? The reality is that there is zero chance of conservatives reimposing traditional ideals on the legal system.

A more realistic objective for the Conservatives would be to pursue a settlement to protect the rights of people of faith to live in accordance with their beliefs. Even that might be a tall ask. No less a figure than the president of the United Kingdom's Supreme Court recently warned we have entered a period of liberal censoriousness that threatens to socially ostracise traditionalists who were very much a part of the mainstream not long ago.

However, a defensive conservative stance oriented towards protecting religious freedom should be entirely compatible with the philosophy of ACT. The free participation of individuals in religious life according to their conscience is at the core of the liberal, pluralistic society that the party claims to promote. Libertarians might fear an ascendant Christianity; they ought to be the allies of a beleaguered Christian minority.

It would be a prudent move by both parties that would also serve to maximise their election chances. However, it is unlikely that the parties would agree to such a move.

For one thing, the foundations of the Conservative Party seem to be built on the sand of Craig's personality and money. It is very hard to see him agreeing to scale back his ambition or enter into a pragmatic alliance for the sake of such long-term interests.

Whyte, on the other hand, would probably not be an acceptable partner to traditionalist voters. Unlike many great classical liberal thinkers, he has not done much to hide his disdain for Christianity. Indeed, some of his comments lead one to wonder if he is one of those rightists who believes he can buy respectability with the smart set by attacking the easy target of traditional religion.

That would ultimately be fatal to any relationship between the parties. After all, if there's one thing a relationship can't withstand, it is contempt. Not for the first time, it seems that personalities can crowd out self-interest in politics.

- Manawatu Standard

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