ACT is in search of a new leader. The liberal right may also be in search of a new party. These together make for interesting trading times at iPredict.
I've reckoned that a party on the right economically does best by being firmly liberal on social matters. Not only does that coincide with my own preferences, but it also provides strategic opportunity for such a party to go into coalition both with National and with Labour/Green. Economic liberalism is advanced in coalition with National while, hopefully, preventing backsliding on social issues; social liberalism is advanced in coalition with Green/Labour while, hopefully, mitigating some of the backsliding on economic issues.
ACT hasn't been terrible on social liberalism under Banks, but neither could they ever really be leading on that front. Banks is a social conservative who wound up being stuck leading a liberal(ish) party. I can't fault him for his performance in that role given the constraints. I was very happy when he supported Louisa Wall's gay marriage legislation; his speech in support of the legislation was very good. A lot of the time he had seemed to be playing the part of a liberal leader, representing values other than his own because it was his job to do it - which itself is something for which he should be commended. On the gay marriage bill, he genuinely seemed to have come around substantially.
What problems on social liberalism ACT has had under Banks have come less from Banks than from divisions within the party. ACT's support for the GCSB/TICS legislation seemed to reflect the true preferences of rather a few within the Party rather than being just a necessary part of a coalition agreement. I think ACT missed a really big opportunity. Even just working out a couple of achievable improvements to the legislation and pushing them publicly as civil liberties wins for ACT would have gone a long way to avoid alienating the civil libertarian wing of the party.
I ran the numbers on the 2008 NZES election data suggesting there was room for a properly liberal party, whether ACT or otherwise. I'll have to re-do that with the 2011 figures.
iPredict has a series of contracts up on the ACT leadership. There's been lots of movement in those contracts since they were launched this morning. It's currently looking like a two-way race between Jaime Whyte and David Seymour, with Whyte on $0.60 and Semour on $0.20. Seymour worked in John Banks' office before heading to work for the Frontier Center in Canada; Whyte has a background in journalism and management consulting. Both would be great, though I'd be surprised if the still rather youthful (ie younger than me, a category that keeps getting larger) Seymour were picked. I have 100 buy orders in on Whyte at $0.50; 100 sell orders on Seymour at $0.30. I expect that either of them would represent a welcome shift towards a more classically liberal party.
There's also an "Other to be the ACT Party leader" contract, which pays $1 minus the payouts on all the other leadership contracts. This makes it not simply an "other leader" contract, but also a contract that pays out in the event that the liberal wing of ACT decides they do better starting a new party and that the Party then folds before deciding on a new leader. I've 100 buy orders in on that one at $0.01.
Finally, there are separate contracts running on who will be ACT leader on nomination day. There's always some chance that the next leader will not be leader on nomination day, though it seems odd that Banks is there running at $0.05.
I love that we get real-money trading on these kinds of contracts pretty much immediately. Thanks, iPredict!
Update: Hooton suggests a summer's thinking over whether there should be a new party. [NBR gated]. There were a lot of conversations on the right after the 2011 result wondering whether the liberal wing of ACT ought just go off and set up its own party; obviously, that obviously didn't wind up happening. I doubt a new party can really launch while ACT is still around. Choice of dooms, really. ACT has a lot of baggage and problems, regardless of any new leader. But launching a new party is incredibly difficult. A relaunch and rebranding building on an existing seat and accompanying Parliamentary resources wouldn't be a good as a new party that had access to similar resources, but a new party wouldn't have those resources.