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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Act's rebranding too little too late

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Don Brash and his Act Party are in a policy rut. Photo / APN
Don Brash and his Act Party are in a policy rut. Photo / APN

Act is now trying to sell itself as the "right" partner for National. The party is trying to sell Don Brash's Reserve Bank experience as "right" for tough economic times.

The double meaning of "right" is surely intended. Act is going back to its basics. Yesterday the party officially launched its election campaign. The occasion was really all about relaunching Act.

Brash's speech was notable for a heavy emphasis on economic policy. Treaty matters - normally a staple of any Brash address - were pushed right to the back and occupied just four paragraphs.

But coming less than two weeks out from election day, this attempt at renewal was far too little and much too late.

Moreover, Act is in a policy rut. That can be discerned from reading Rodney Hide's speech launching Act's 2008 campaign. Not much has changed. Brash's effort begged for something new and inspiring to get people talking about Act in a positive fashion.

That something is not Brash's call to re-examine New Zealand's relations with Fiji's Bainimarama regime, with him saying keeping the latter at arm's length is not working for either country.

Maybe not. But attempts at a breakthrough have not been for want of trying on Foreign Minister Murray McCully's part. His initiatives have simply been rebuffed by Suva.

Meanwhile, voters have been treated to the pitiful sight of Act having to wave the kava bowl in front of National to maintain its hold on Epsom as its life-line back to Parliament.

With teabags deposited on every seat at yesterday's launch and leaflets and cards picturing John Key and John Banks sipping in harmony already printed and ready to be stuffed into letter-boxes, Act is portraying Friday's cup of tea as something of a coup.

Act should not delude itself. Key granted Banks an audience on Friday because the question of when he would do it had become a distraction and it was better to get it out of the way.

Some are arguing Key made a strategic mistake in entertaining Banks.

With Banks now seemingly guaranteed to win Epsom for Act - so the theory goes - those wanting to support that party are now free to give their party vote to Act secure in the knowledge that they will not be casting a wasted vote. Act can only win votes off National.

But Act's value to Key is twofold. If he does not need Act now, he will definitely need the party to hold seats at the 2014 election unless some other viable partner emerges in the interim. Key also likes to have Act around espousing radical policies because it helps him to look moderate.

It is unlikely Key will have to worry about National shedding votes to Act. The latter registered at just 0.7 per cent in last night's 3 News poll. Act's chance of gaining even 2 per cent of the vote is roughly zero.

The party has tested voters' patience too many times during the past three years. Voters allow a party some leeway for mistakes. But there comes a point when they stop listening and cut that party loose. That was Winston Peters' fate at the last election.

It will be Act's and Don Brash's at this.

SIDELIGHTS

Not Art, for God's Sake: Artist Sam Mahon's picture of John Key as a corpse which also doubles as an interactive game called "Who Killed John Key?" The Prime Minister sensibly ignored it. Phil Goff wisely condemned it.

They said it: "We would have been in a state of national mourning if even one other country had beaten us at rugby. We seem relaxed at being 149th in the economic growth stakes." - Act leader Don Brash laments the lack of concern about International Monetary Fund projections that 148 countries are expected to have grown faster than New Zealand during the decade to 2016.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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