John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Act conference more hibernation than rejuvenation

Former Act leader Rodney Hide addresses the faithful at the party's conference. Photo / Dean Purcell
Former Act leader Rodney Hide addresses the faithful at the party's conference. Photo / Dean Purcell

The theme of Act's weekend conference was "rejuvenation". There was precious little evidence of that to be seen where it really mattered.

Sure, the party has a new president and a new board of trustees. Sure, the conference organisers sought to underline the theme by parading some of the party's young activists and giving them five-minute speaking slots on any subject of their choice.

There was even something which purported to be a policy to tackle housing affordability. On closer inspection it seemed to be more another rationale for destroying the Resource Management Act.

This is one reason people remain wary of Act: there always seems to be another agenda operating.

What was really missing from the conference, however, was a big bang-like statement which would resonate with the wider public and announce "Act's back" in no uncertain terms.

Rather than rejuvenation, there has been hibernation. The party needed to put distance between itself and the Banks-Dotcom shenanigans of last year. Banks has had to keep his head down.

There is a truism in politics that voters will put up with an awful lot from a party. But when their patience is tested once too often then there is no route back. The party's stalwarts naturally are reluctant to bring themselves to accept that diagnosis.

Under normal circumstances, a party of the right should be licking its lips in anticipation of picking up a fair chunk of votes next year as a second-term National Government shifts ever closer to the centre to try to retain support. But that is not happening.

As for solutions which might help recovery, there is the usual talk abut softening Act's abrasive language and trying to appeal more to female voters. There has been talk of changing the party's name, but the feeling is that would be seen as cosmetic without accompanying personnel changes.

Barring scaring Epsom voters into voting Act to stop National having to rely on NZ First or the Maori Party to govern, the party's strategists seem at a loss.

- NZ Herald

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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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