ACT's John Boscawen reads the writing on the wall as the party tries to win over the lock 'em up crowd and the decriminalise drugs crowd at the same time

Rodney Hide must be laughing in his grave, to use one of the great old gags. ACT's political fortunes have gone from bad to worse with the announcement that No. 2 John Boscawen is stepping down from parliament to spend more time with his family.

Does anyone believe a word of that worm-riddled old cliche? A month ago Boscawen committed to another term, accepting the number two slot on the party's list. Now, eight weeks out from the election, he changes his mind.

What's changed in the past month for him to decide "that my family must come first"? Unless he's holding back some health secret, the only thing that could have changed his mind is the thing that hasn't changed - ACT's polling.

Don Brash waltzed into the leadership talking about ACT winning 15% of the vote and saving the party from "electoral oblivion" under Hide. Guess what? It wasn't Hide that was the problem, after all. Not now, anyway.

Hide's failings had seeped into a party brand long ago; and frankly the party's policies just aren't the fit for the times. The bits people like National is doing - or kind of doing. The other bits, especially the free-market purity, just don't sell when the world is teetering on the edge of a financial abyss.

Why trust the markets when they can't even decide for themselves what they think - up one day, down the next, and down further the day after. This is a time when people are inclined to cling to the life-raft of government, not hand the oars to the crooks and traders who played us all for fools with their derivatives and short-term bonuses, then left us with nothing but debt.

So it's a hard enough road as it is, yet the inability of ACT get back to basics, speak with one voice and look like anything other than a bunch of disappointed, rich white men is dooming them. Oblivion, as someone said.

Today ACT will launch its law and order policy, and while, as Stephen Franks says, it's largely in line with party philosophy, it reeks of desperation. Unfair? Well, what do you think?

ACT wants to enshrine the right to self-defence in the bill of rights. Now that works as far as ACT's conversion to the Sensible Sentencing Trust view of the world goes, but it's more populism than libertarianism. (And I expect it will be popular.)

But pause for a second. It's one thing for people to defend themselves. Already section 48 of the Crimes Act says:

"Everyone is justified in using, in defence of himself or another, such force as, in the circumstances as he believes them to be, it is reasonable to use".

But to push the pendulum further, to give that right the rare constitutional power of a place in the bill of rights is surely to invite more violence into a society already beset with more than its fair share.

Surely we know by now that violence begets violence; this only adds to the cycle. It does nothing to address the cause of crime or break cycles of violence in New Zealand.

Brash conveniently quote the stories of Virender Singh, Navtej Singh and Greg Carvell.

No mention of Pihema Cameron or Bruce Emery. The shadow of the vigilante hangs heavy over this idea.

Then, just as you assume ACT's political strategy is to out-muscle even itself in the law and order stakes, Brash goes and announces he's got qualms about cannabis laws. They're not working, he says, and maybe it's time to decriminalise.

The politics of this is just nuts. Why? Look at it this way. The self-defence policy looks like out-and-out populism; Winston Peters will be kicking himself for not thinking of it first. But then the marijuana policy is true to ACT's philosophy of freedom, which suggest they're turning back to the party's base.

Thing is, the policies as vote-catchers cancel each other out. Few people will want to vote for both. The 'lock 'em up' crowd from ZB will cheer the former, but simply loathe the latter.

ACT looks like a party making it up as it goes along. It looks loose. Consider this line from today's Brash speech:

"...the status quo where innocent people are more likely than not to be prosecuted for using legitimate force in self-defence and in defence of their property must be overturned".

'More likely than not'? Unlikely, I thought. So I rang the police. Unlikely, they said, but we don't keep such data so we don't and can't know.

So I rang Kim Workman at Rethinking Crime and Punishment. Unlikely, he said. No, he didn't know of any such data and we should take on whoever it was who was making such a claim (I hadn't attributed the quote, so as not to bias anyone).

Workman added with a laugh, "I think you might win".

As I say, loose. And lacking a coherent strategy.

The likely outcome for ACT come November 27 is a caucus of John Banks and Don Brash - two former National party MPs already receiving their pensions. And I may be erring on the side of generosity. Banks could return alone; or not at all, if ACT tries to push the decriminalise marijuana line in the campaign. In Epsom, that'll go down like a, well, a druggie on Victoria Ave.

No wonder John Boscawen changed his mind and discovered the joys of family time. He was never getting back in, anyway. He's seen the writing on the wall and is saving face while he can. And who can blame him?


Comments (22)

by Iain Butler on September 25, 2011
Iain Butler

The likely outcome for ACT come November 27 is a caucus of John Banks and Don Brash - two former National party MPs already receiving their pensions.

Two words: Grandpa State

by Tim Watkin on September 25, 2011
Tim Watkin

Touche, Iain.

by on September 26, 2011

Nice article, Tim. With regard to the Brash's 'more likely than not' averral, his interview on TVNZ saw him pretty much concede that it was made up:

Paul Holmes: 'Well, where's your stats on that? Becuase we couldn't find any on Friday. The police have no idea how you worked that out.'

DR BRASH Well, let's put it this way - I can quote a dozen cases... half a dozen cases in the speech where police have charged people defending themselves, get charged by the police.'

As a wise person once said, Dr Brash, the plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'.

by Tim Watkin on September 26, 2011
Tim Watkin

It's not good enough, Colin. If it was 'more likely than not' you could argue some questions should be asked... More than 50% of people put in a position where they had to defend themselves with force being prosecuted. I'd want to know why the number was that high...

There are times when self defence goes too far – something ACT isn't willing to acknowledge. Some prosecutions are justified. But more than 50% would demand explanation.

But then it seems that it's not 50%+ at all... So what is it? Who knows? No-one, it seems. But a parliamentary party shouldn't be making up numbers without having that proof to hand.

by Richard Aston on September 26, 2011
Richard Aston

The frantic thrashings of a dieing political party - well thats my hope anyway.
Brash's ideas don't deserve serious consideration in my view - he is so cleary prospecting for votes in what ever small corner of the voter land he can find. Boscawen saw the writing on the wall methinks.

His support for the decriminalisation of marijuana is just strange considering their traditional right wing support base but hey this idea has been build traction for a while now perhaps he saw an opportunity to grab a few votes on the back of it.

The only positive I can see is it may bring up the decriminalisation of marijuana debate into a wider audience- when the greens raise it they get the usual dopehead hippy tags . Then again ...


by on September 26, 2011

Ideally, a parliamentary party (or its leader, anyway; he's adamant that these are only, for the moment, his personal musings) shouldn't be misrepresenting cases either. As I understand it, Greg Carvell was never charged with assault, as Brash contends, but rather with offences relating to his possession of the firearm prior to the attack (to which any claim of self-defence would be irrelevant). This is the 'classic case' upon which Brash's proposed law reform is based, but he doesn't even seem to know its basic details.

There are serious questions surrounding self-defence, which may be worth discussing; about a possible defence of 'excessive force', maybe, or the role of voluntary intoxication or mental disorder in skewing the defendant's perception of circumstances. The position of victims of chronic domestic violence is also somewhat tenuous, arguably even more so since the provocation defence was withdrawn.

But Brash's contribution, I'm afraid, is starting to look less like a serious attempt to clarify or improve this area of law, and more like a populist rant, based on made-up statistics and misunderstood examples.

by Kate Kennedy on September 26, 2011
Kate Kennedy

You might be interested to read my new book “Matters To A Head: Cannabis, mental illness & recovery”. You can check it out through my website The book discusses extensively the relationship between cannabis and mental illness, and why the decriminalisation argument is far less important to NZ than the real issue of providing and resourcing appropriate treatment and services to those who become unstuck by the drug. Of which our mental health services and prisons have many such sufferers. Sometimes running into the law is the only way a person eventually gets any help.

by Che Nua on September 26, 2011
Che Nua

I'd say this is pretty good news for NZ First who are likely to pick up a few votes from that wierd group of right leaning muldoonian law n order oldies

by william blake on September 26, 2011
william blake

So if Banks takes Epsom does he automatically get a 'buddy' in Parliament under MMP, Tim? Even if the Act Party only draws 2% of the vote. I really like the prediction that Banks will take Epsom and (unwillingly) have to captain the Act Party, alone.

Detail: if marihuana is decriminalised will synthetic cannabis also get the tick?

by The Falcon on September 27, 2011
The Falcon

Another low-quality article, Tim. Your dislike of the ACT Party prevents you from seeing the issues clearly.

Some of the lock-em-up crowd will hate the idea of decriminalising weed. But plenty of ACT's supporters want to lock people up for hurting others while legalising victimless crimes.

Also amuses me how left-wing commentators like yourself, who presumably would like to see weed decriminalised, are refusing to comment on the issue so as to be able to score political points off ACT. Principles come second it seems.

by Brendon Mills on September 27, 2011
Brendon Mills

All I'm thinking is that under ACT's economic policies, no one would have enough money to buy pot anyway. Not on youth rates anyway...

by The Falcon on September 27, 2011
The Falcon

Yes Brendon, what on earth is ACT thinking with their terrible economic policies? The minimum wage should be raised to $50 per hour so that everyone has more money in their pockets. I can't see a downside!

by william blake on September 28, 2011
william blake

Hey Turkey, you mentioned "plenty of Act supporters..." ha ha ha.

by Richard Aston on September 28, 2011
Richard Aston

Kate K

I agree with you about "providing and resourcing appropriate treatment and services to those who become unstuck by the drug." Which is why its a health and education issue rather than a criminal issue.

Not sure how you get "running into the law is the only way a person eventually gets any help" , I didn't think mental health help was commonly given to people arrested for dope or even alcohol for that matter.



by Tim Watkin on September 28, 2011
Tim Watkin

Richard, can't agree that the views don't warrant serious consideration. I might not agree with too many, but let's not dismiss just because we disagree, or we'll all end up like a certain bird-brained fellow we all know.

And to be fair, as I mentioned in the article, Brash's view on marijuana is in fact consistent with a libertarian party. It's a personal freedom issue for them, not a law and order or health issue.

But – and here's the political problem – ACT has turned itself into a law and order party while trying to remain a liberatarian party at the same time (at least economically). That's created a philosophical whirlpool at the core of its policies, so that it's all churned up.

This is personified in the former Police Minister John Banks and the former Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash – the same, but very different.

by Tim Watkin on September 28, 2011
Tim Watkin

William, no, not automatically. A certain legal mind with initials GE has pulled me up on this stuff before when I try to offer answers late at night... But from memory ACT needs to get 2% (or is it 2.2%) to get a second MP. It's roughly where they are now, anyway; they're right on the cusp. Lose any support and it's Banks alone.

(Yes Falcon, I'm ignoring you. You obviously either didn't read the post or can't see past your prejudice).

by Richard Aston on September 29, 2011
Richard Aston

Fair enough Tim and Kate sorry if I came across too opinionated  - I read your site and you have been there , done the hard yards of recovery for which I have great respect.

I have also seen, through my work, the mental health issues arising out of dope abuse .  I have also seen mental health issues go underground and untreated because of the illegal nature of the drugs.

It is a complex issue.


by Richard Aston on September 29, 2011
Richard Aston

I'm ignoring the bird man too.


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