At the end of a recent post on the prospects for a rumoured new left-of-Labour party (which seem to have been somewhat dimmed by the Mana by-election results) I invited readers to speculate also on the likelihood of a new right-of-National Party looking to warm itself on the embers of Act's credibility.
In her Herald on Sunday column yesterday, Deborah Coddington asked:
Are we seeing the fomenting of a single issue anti-Maori party?
And if it's New Zealand's Tea Party, is Muriel Newman our Mama Grizzly?
Not likely responded Scott Yorke:
Muriel Newman may have much in common intellectually with Sarah Palin, but she does not have the charisma. In fact, none of them would be anything other than liabilities on the campaign trail were they to form a party for the disaffected. Don Brash, the potential leader of any such party, is wooden and awkward in public, and no other potential leader stands out.
This would, of course, be to suggest that Newman is aware of her limitations. This is a woman who describes her batty website, the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, as "New Zealand's leading internet think tank", and who happily confronts historians with pseudohistory and scientists with pseudoscience. Well-founded or not, her confidence is undeniable.
Like the Tea Party leaders, Newman's crowd has benefactors. The NZCPR's activities this year have been at least partly funded from money raised at The Great Day Out at the Farm in February. Delights on the day included speeches from Alan Gibbs, Don Brash and Roger Douglas on "what they would do if they were New Zealand’s dictator for a year!"
An invitation to Gibbs' farm cost $250 and donors of $1000 or more bought themselves a ride in the Aquada. I'm not entirely sure what to make of the presence of Dick Frizzell's winery among the sponsors.
The farm gathering was essentially an extension of a more established event for avowed political conservatives, Amy Brooke's annual Summer Sounds Symposium, where right-wing intellectuals speak and late-night revellers sing 'Land of Hope and Glory' as they dance around the bonfire (and no, that isn't actually a joke).
In 2008, the present attorney-general, Chris Finlayson, spoke at the Sounds Symposium; pitching the Treaty settlements process as one of good conservative principles and property rights to what was by all accounts a fairly reluctant audience.
This week, Newman is demanding Finlayson's "replacement" on account of his "plan to relinquish our public ownership rights to the foreshore and seabed - in favour of a regime of increasing Maori-only ownership and control."
This plan, she says, "is seen by many as grossly offensive. And the fact that John Key, Chris Finlayson and the rest of the National party don’t understand how offensive this is, is an indictment on their understanding of what it means to be New Zealander."
Newman claims more than 10,000 signatories to the "Coastal Coalition" opposing the Marine and Coastal Area Bill, crafted by Finlayson and others as a replacement for the Seabed and Foreshore Act. Resistance to the new bill has been largely reported as emanating from the side of iwi interests -- but it may well be that there are more furious footsoldiers among the ranks of self-proclaimed real New Zealanders.
And Newman has one big friend (no, not Chris Trotter, although him too). Don Brash has chosen to reprise his Orewa role as the Caucasian Cassandra. Bryce Edwards writes here about the revival of Brash, repeatedly invoking the word "principles" to characterise the former National Party leader's motivations.
True conservative principle, one might think, would actually embrace property rights and common law. You'd also hope it would steer clear of fringe science and racist historical fantasies. But that's not really what's happening here. You need only scan this page of the NZCPR's hilariously leading poll questions and their thunderous one-way results to gauge the quality of "debate" actually going on at the centre.
One of the more popular poll questions asks "Is there room in New Zealand politics for a Tea Party-style movement?" Eighty eight per cent of respondents said "Yes".
In truth, far too many conditions are absent for a mass popular paranoiac movement like the Tea Parties to truly take hold in New Zealand. But the people who would like to see such a thing take place are sufficiently bankrolled, motivated and organised to cause some trouble for the political centre-right establishment that currently leads our politics.