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Poisoned caucus? The social conservative takeover of National

Sun 27 Feb 2005 In: Comment

Has Richard Prebble inadvertantly let a certain blue mog out of a nondescript bag about the current behaviour of National's caucus? I was struck by areas of agreement in his latest ACT Letter. The retiring former ACT leader has inferred the following. One, Don Brash is a lame-duck leader, and his inexperience is starting to tell. Two, the discredited Brat Pack have retained control over caucus policy and ideological direction as a result, albeit reconstituted. Three, Murray McCully has been absent from caucus. Does that mean he's been told to shut up after his ludicrous outburst against the Hubba Hubba safe sex campaign's gay couple, or is there a further coup planned? And why does this sound so exactly like what Marion Maddox described after Opposition Leader John Hewson was white-anted and dumped, by discontented Liberal caucus social conservatives after Australia's federal election in 1992? In that context, Hewson attracted the ire of his social conservative ideologues through sending a congratulatory message to the Sydney Lesbian and Gay Mardi Gras. In New Zealand, it's slightly different. Bill English and Nick Smith presided over a grossly incompetent general election campaign in 2002, which led to decimation of their caucus colleagues. As a result, unrepresentative social conservatives now dominate National's parliamentary caucus. Could it be possible that, given the narrowness of Brash's leadership coup victory, he decided to placate National's dominant social conservative faction through pandering to their prejudices? That might be all very well for caucus unity, but does it mean that the social conservatives have taken over the caucus and policy direction, and foisted their ideological purity obsessions as a result? If so, does this bode well for National's electoral prospects, or long-term survival as a large political party? After Brash loses the next general election, there may be a power struggle between social conservatives and social liberals for policy and strategy. If the social conservatives win, we could expect to see a social conservative National Party that embraces ideological purity on matters like abortion, euthanasia and same-sex parenting. If social liberals gain the ascendancy, then we may see something pragmatic like Canada's Progressive Conservative Party, which balances its social conservative and liberal compliments- much like the Bolger and Shipley administrations of the nineties did. Much depends on whether social conservatives have also seized control of candidate selection, and whether we can expect an influx of ideologues parroting sectarian religious dogma, rather than committed to libertarian concepts of individual freedom and reduced government spending. Prebble may be correct in fearing the worst. If his guesswork is valid, then National isn't committed to its nineties free-market policy stance and has become obsessed with enforcing sectarian religious social conservative morality that has little resonance with New Zealanders as a whole. And that means that it is positioning itself for coalition compatability with New Zealand First, not ACT. Can we expect the Second Coming of Bill English? If so, will World War III break out within the National Party beforehand? Recommended Reading: Marion Maddox: God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics: Sydney: Allen and Unwin: 2005. Craig Young - 27th February 2005    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Sunday, 27th February 2005 - 12:00pm

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