David Seymour is having a swing at winning over voters with a reheated ACT law and order policy and bit of Rodney Hideism. Which recalls the last time ACT tried this on...
So ACT has decided to reheat it's disastrous policy from 2014, promoting a three strikes regime for burglars.
The policy was meant to land in a sweet spot of populism for ACT, as Jamie Whyte tried to take on Rodney Hide's mantle as a crime-bashing campaigner. But it was always an ill-fit. Whyte is more of a purist libertarian and the crime-bashing annex that Hide built onto the ACT house in an attempt to camouflage its libertarian economic mission never sat well.
In fact, Whyte butchered his first public discussion of the policy; an early indicator (along with his Ruminator ruminations on incest) that he wasn't temperamentally suited to politics, let alone campaigns.
On my first episode in charge of The Nation he revealed plans for this new policy, but knew nothing of the detail. He said:
“THEY’LL WORK LIKE ALL OTHER THREE STRIKE POLICIES. IF YOU DO THE SAME CRIME REPEATEDLY YOU GET A FULL LIFE JAIL TERM.”
Interviewer Simon Shepherd probed as to whether he really meant that a three-time burglar would be locked up for life and Whyte tried to change the topic; of course that wasn't the plan. And the re-heated policy now decrees that the third strike will mean a mandatory three year sentence.
But it's interesting David Seymour has decided to draft and push a piece of legislation like this. Law and order and the big state intrusion and cost to the taxpayer involved is an awkward fit for ACT's ideology.
Three strikes laws will mean more prisoners and more prisons, at a huge cost to the taxpayer. From an economic (if not a Catholic) perspective, Bill English has been trying to back National away from the 'lock 'em up' ideology so popular 5-10 years ago. So it seems odd that cost-cutting ACT would want to take on a policy that will require a lot of taxpayer funds.
The other point, of course, is that three strikes policies are banal; as if some baseball rule is anything more than a random and punitive approach to justice. What's more, as Lisa Owen's reports on Newshub this week have shown, much burglary is done by the very young. Is he really ready to lock up a 14 year-old three striker for their final three school years?
So it seems Seymour, who has thus far tried to rebuild ACT on its core principles, is not above a little Hide-like populism. While has had a very colourful, profile-raising and stabilising year in 2015, the polls gave him little succour.
Perhaps, after a year stuck at no more than one percent in the polls, he's ready to try a few things to reconnect with the New Zealanders who, after a year of looking quite sensible, are willing to look again at ACT's shop window.
I'm not sure this type of law and order policy has the cut-through it used to and so don't expect it to give him the result he's looking for, but at least he's not talking about locking up burglars for life.