Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Maverick gesture takes Act leadership contest away from board

John Boscawen.
John Boscawen.

The Act board has lost control of the party leadership contest with the decision by contender John Boscawen to hold a public meeting in Epsom and to challenge other candidates to attend.

The maverick decision by the former MP and president to involve the Epsom electorate may not endear him to the Act board, which had no intention of taking the contest to the public.

It is the board that will make the crucial decision on Sunday of who will be the next leader and who will be the party's Epsom candidate.

However, Mr Boscawen's challenge to rival Jamie Whyte to join him at the meeting has been accepted.

"I kind of have to really," Dr Whyte told the Herald.

"If I don't go, it just looks like I am shying away from opening up to the public."

But he said the problem was that it mixed two things: "There's what you say in public and then there's business that you do as a party in public.

John very much wants to conduct this leadership contest in public.

"Given the party's history and its reputation for internal squabbling, I'm not sure it's a great idea."

However, Dr Whyte said it was a good idea to open up the contest to Act members.

Mr Boscawen believes the party leader should also be the candidate for Epsom, a seat Act has held since 2005.

Holding the seat has meant Act has not had to reach the 5 per cent threshold of party votes across the country in order to have a presence in Parliament and provide support for the minority National Government in two terms.

Dr Whyte, a former philosophy lecturer and management consultant, favours splitting the roles.

He said it would make sense to have them as one role only if Act were "the Epsom party".

"But we are not the Epsom party."

While it was important to win Epsom, the party's ambitions went well beyond that.

"There is no insult [to Epsom] in not making our leader the Epsom candidate. We'll make sure we put up a bloody good person."

He is backing former leadership prospect David Seymour, who stood for Act in Auckland Central in the last election.

Mr Seymour, 30, said he would attend the Boscawen public meeting on Thursday.

He believed that Mr Boscawen "just enjoys having public meetings".

"It's a lot of what he has done in the past and it is a bit of a glory-day thing for him."

The meeting is at 7.30pm on Thursday at the Somervell Presbyterian Church, 497 Remuera Rd.

- NZ Herald

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