An advertisement placed by the Act Party in this newspaper last weekend must have been manna from heaven for its intended target, the Maori Party. "Fed up with pandering to Maori radicals?" Act asked. It has been a while since the likes of Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples were called radical. If last month's Te Tai Tokerau byelection is any indication, they are not radical enough for many Maori voters.

Helpfully, Act's advertisement set out exactly what Maori have gained from an agreement with the present Government. National had broken a promise to scrap "the race-based Maori seats", had passed the Marine and Coastal Area Bill "to make it much easier for the Maori Party's mates to claim our coastal riches", ratified the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ...

The list went on to mention the spelling of Wanganui, co-governance of the Waikato River, a Maori advisory committee for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Auckland Council's Maori Statutory Board that can put unelected people on council committees.

The last-mentioned, as most Aucklanders will remember, owes much to the Act Party. Were it not for Act's obsession with "race-based Maori seats", there would have been just two or three of them on the council rather than a standalone board with a hefty budget and its appointees on every committee.

Reading the entire list, the average voter will probable realise how reasonable the "radicals" have been, and how dated Act's concerns now seem. Act, of course, is not bidding for the average voter; its appeal is aimed at a fringe where it hopes to find enough votes to survive. It will have the "race-based" white vote to itself unless New Zealand First is revived in the few months remaining before the election.

But even Act has moved slightly with the times. The weekend advertisement has caused its author, John Ansell, to resign because the party toned it down. It is only six years since National, under the leadership of Don Brash, was buying Mr Ansell's divisive billboards. Now even Dr Brash finds Mr Ansell's terminology too much.

Nevertheless, political parties across the spectrum are probably ahead of their voters on this issue, which is why National and the Maori Party have moved cautiously. Act's advertisement indicates it is less concerned about what the Maori Party has gained so far than what it stands to gain if National needs its support after the election.

It expects Maori to press for a new national constitution, for all teachers to learn te reo, and for adoption of many of the Waitangi Tribunal's recent suggestions for recognising tribal interests in native plants, animals, cultural creations and knowledge. Those are reasonable predictions and worthy of debate.

It is a measure of the Maori Party's success that even after its poor showing in the byelection it remains the focus of Act's attention. The "radical" tag would have been much more fearful if pinned on the byelection's narrow victor but clearly Act does not expect Hone Harawira's party to be a post-election player.

Act is appealing for a tactical vote large enough to give National an alternative to the Maori Party as a governing partner. Dr Sharples has enough confidence in mainstream voters to respond with an open letter to Dr Brash calling his views "inaccurate, ill-founded and out of tune with middle New Zealand's ideals and aspirations for our country".

These are times of high hopes that could easily be dashed on November 26. But right now, Act's sentiments sound likea fading call from the past. Radicalism at both ends of the spectrum has had its day. Responsibility and goodwill are ruling now.