Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: The Act Party entertainment

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Act Party leader John Banks attends the Act Party annual conference. Photo / NZ Herald
Act Party leader John Banks attends the Act Party annual conference. Photo / NZ Herald

Much ink is being spilt and airtime apparently wasted on the annual conference of a political party that is currently polling at 0.1%. But that's always been the way of the Act Party - political journalists and commentators love to cover Act because it's such an interesting party, even during its apparent dying days. To get a sense of this, it's well worth watching the 3 News coverage of the party's conference - watch the 2.5 minute clip: Act Party struggles to avoid political oblivion. As well as shouting 'bastards!' at TV3 journalists, the colourful Rodney Hide is also shown speaking of Act's alleged hatred of the poor, Maori and unions - and ambiguously confirming that at least some of that hate is real. On Twitter, the Act Party (@actparty) later tweets to say 'Those are not ACT's views'.

When a party is close to death, the only theme to push can be one of turning things around - hence, Audrey Young reports that the Act Party meeting this weekend aimed at 'rejuvenation', and she quotes John Banks as saying the party is re-emerging as 'reinvigorated, re-tooled and refocused'.

Elsewhere, party backer Alan Gibbs says the party's former supporters need 're-awakening'. Perhaps we can look forward to a new branding as the 'Re-Act' party.

There's some internal disagreement about how Act should go about finding 'salvation', especially whether the party should emphasise its 'flagship charter schools policy' - see Andrea Vance's ACTion man 'not a saviour' but still committed. Apparently leader John Banks thinks the policy is a winner for Act, Hide says it's the party's 'greatest achievement, but Gibbs says 'Charter schools are important but they are not the central issue for ACT'. The party also made it obvious in the weekend that the current big issue of housing unaffordability was going to be a target too - with plans announced to give 'property owners back the freedom to develop their own land' - see Andrea Vance's ACT backs development as housing solution.

At the conference John Banks confirmed he plans to stand again for Epsom. And his party emphasised its intention to get National to once again support Banks as part of an Act party lifeline to save National from being utterly dependent on New Zealand First and the Maori Party - see Newswire's ACT unveils desperate push for Epsom. However, such a strategy, according to John Armstrong, is part of Act's problem: 'Scaring National voters does not seem to be much of an election strategy' - see: Down - but not out.

The problem for Act is that its reputation is just too tarnished to allow any sort of re-build. What's more the party's leader, John Banks, is particularly damaged. And the Herald has reported this weekend that his reputation might suffer further due to a re-emerging controversy about his role in finance company Huljich Wealth Management - see: Banks faces legal threat.

A bigger problem for Act, however, is its apparent ideological emptiness. Act's crisis is really a reflection or symptom of a situation where politicians no longer feel they have a clearly defined purpose. Although ACT is ostensibly a libertarian and radical movement, its various leaders have turned it into a highly pragmatic vote chasing and boring mainstream party. This problem is best conveyed in John Armstrong's very good conference report, Act conference more hibernation than rejuvenation. Armstrong says that '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'. He points out that Act's 'strategists seem at a loss' to find a way forward.

The party has a seemingly hopeless struggle on its hands. As TV3's Brook Sabin reports, the latest opinion polls put the party on only 0.1% yet it's aiming to increase that to 5% - 'That's a 4900 percent increase in support', tending to suggest the party current inhabits a fantasyland. Surely even Act's most ardent supporters realise by now that the game is all but up? Ironically, the most useful role that Act is now playing is in blocking any other right-wing party from being established and flourishing. As long as Act continues to just survive, it sucks away resources, activists and potential - not just from nascent parties like John Ansell's proposed new party, or the Conservatives - but also from the establishment of a truly radically economic and socially-liberal party of the right.

For all that, with a minister in the Government, Act still has influence, and with the Maori Party possibly on its way out, the Banks vote becomes proportionately more valuable. By holding on to Banks during the Dotcom scandal last year, Key showed that he was willing to keep Act alive. This could mean Banks will be given some sort of free run in Epsom in 2014. So the party might be shadow of what it once was, but it continues to demand serious attention.

Other recent important or interesting items include the following:

* Commentators are refusing to let the SkyCity scandal lie, with economist Rod Oram now labelling the Auditor-General's report a 'whitewash' - see: No way to run a country. John Armstrong is also harshly critical of the Government's response to the Auditor-General's report - see: Nats battle hard to tame report. And Tim Watkin says that it all reflects a modern modus operandi in which only results matter, not process - see: Pokies & smokies: When the means and ends don't meet.

* How do visiting political journalists view New Zealand? The Guardian's Michael White has been on holiday here and reports back home: Paradise of New Zealand has problems too, many much like ours.

* Bill English and Tony Ryall are looking decidedly sombre due to the ills of Solid Energy says Tracy Watkins in Miners' woes make asset sales harder. She argues that the SOE's problems could have a 'calamitous' political cost for National.

* National's latest poll rating is 51% - See Patrick Gower's National bounces back in poll. Labour will take some solace in the detail that 'only 20 per cent believed Mr Shearer was out of touch with "ordinary people" compared to 52 per cent who believed Mr Key was' - see: National's 51pc leaves the rest far behind.

* Q: When do (some) leftists say they welcome job losses? A: When those jobs are in the environmentally unfashionable mining industry. Blogger, No Right Turn says, Let Solid Energy fail.

* The Christchurch rebuild and its future are 'in the hands of Christchurch's rigid Old Guard' according to blogger and Labour activist James Dann writing on the Herarld website: Two years, little progress in Christchurch. For another in-depth look at rebuild issues - especially the question of 'who will pay?', see John McCrone's Christchurch rebuild: How much will we pay?.

* What is 218 plus 191? Almost half of 9-year-olds could not answer this in a test, which shows why New Zealand is languishing behind other countries in maths. Hekia Parata is looking to do something about it - see Andrew Laxon's Govt eyes back to basics in maths.

* It seemed like an idea that voters might dislike - reducing their say over politicians. But TVNZ reports, Kiwis in favour of four year Government term.

* Do the Police spy on unions? According to ex-Police spy, Rob Gilchrist, they do - see: Spy's claim: A decade of deception. Do the Police spy on social media? David Fisher reports on the Police's 'specialist software tool which mines social media for information' - see: Police software mines social media. Do the Police pay witnesses to testify? Again, yes, according to Phil Taylor's Police paid witnesses in murder case shock. And, do the Police have authorisation to operate their recently acquired aerial drone? No, according to David Beatson, writing on Pundit: No rules for NZ Police surveillance drones.

* Labour announces its reshuffle today, and Claire Trevett has some tips for who is about to be demoted and promoted - see: King, Jones tipped for return to front bench.

* Whanau Ora is seen variously as about the 'empowerment of families' or 'a magnet for corruption'. Anthony Hubbard has an in-depth evaluation of the scheme in Whanau Ora helps families recover.

* Not exactly a new blog-war, but entertaining nonetheless - see Scott Yorke's Blogger issues "fatwa" against law professor and Andrew Geddes' response: Wilbur Cussler: A memoir.

* Finally, it might be frivolous analysis, but it's still interesting for MP-watchers - see Kate Chapman's Power dressing - our best and worst-dressed MPs.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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