John Armstrong of the NZ Herald has written a perceptive piece about ACT.
Hat Tip Rodney Hide
However, since its parliamentary representation was slashed from nine MPs to just two, Act has been doing a lot of things differently.
Much of this is down to the political “rebirthing” of Rodney Hide. Over the past 12 months, Act’s leader has gone from Dancing with the Stars to swimming in marathon harbour races over the summer, shedding bulk kilos in the process, and also going through a marriage break-up. After a decade in Parliament, Hide has enjoyed something of an accidental but much needed sabbatical. He says he has emerged refreshed and more motivated – and, importantly, got himself out of Richard Prebble’s shadow. But he has also had a major rethink about how he goes about things as an MP.
This is partly the result of being one of just two MPs. Act now has so few speaking slots or opportunities to question ministers in Parliament that he and his colleague, Heather Roy, have to be far more selective in terms of running issues.
Hide appears to have adopted Winston Peters’ view that small parties should pace themselves through the three-year electoral cycle, rather than try to cover all the bases all the time.
Compounding this change in mindset is Hide’s switch from list MP to constituency MP.
He says Epsom voters took a punt on him and he feels obliged to repay that faith by being the best constituency MP the Auckland electorate has had.
Epsom is likewise Act’s lifeline if the party fails to break through the 5 per cent threshold. On that score, Hide has some grounds for optimism that Act can lift its party vote following National’s marked shift to the centre under John Key’s leadership.
Hide says National has effectively conceded the argument about free market ideas to Act. Some voters on the centre-right are accordingly bound to drift back in Act’s direction.
Holding Epsom is the priority. Hide will be helped by Key’s pragmatism which will see National not putting up too much of a fight in Epsom if saving Act adds two or three more MPs to the centre-right’s side of the equation.
But Act would struggle to achieve even that on present polling.
The party’s “brand” has lost its pulling power. That has forced Hide and senior party members to go back to fundamentals and assess whether Act still has a role and what that role should be.
“The voters sent a very clear message. It is a humbling experience. You take the lesson on board and basically start again.
“We asked some very tough questions of ourselves as to whether Act was needed.”
What has emerged is a party which Hide describes as less “tribal” and one which no longer believes it has all the answers and “everyone else is an idiot“.
“Under MMP, we need to discuss the ideas of other parties to have our ideas discussed. We are looking to engage across the political spectrum and Act has not done that in the past.”
As an example, Hide cites his collaboration with the Greens’ Keith Locke in opposing the planned stadium on the Auckland waterfront.
The willingness to co-operate with other parties is also an attempt to position Act as a more “independent” party and avoid being pigeonholed on the far right.
His speech tomorrow will develop his theme of “accountability” by talking about the “contract” between the state and the people.
“We pay taxes all our lives, but we don’t know what level of services we should get in return. Governments should be more transparent about the level of services they provide and they should be accountable when they fail to meet that level.”
But Hide’s primary task is to stop voters thinking of Act as a write-off.
In positioning Act as more independent he is trying to get it into a position where its two votes in Parliament do make a difference. At that point, voters might start listening to what else the party has to say.