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

Audrey Young: Has Act got talent?

ACT Party leader John Banks (right), with president John Boscawen. Photo / Mark Mitchell
ACT Party leader John Banks (right), with president John Boscawen. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Tweeting from a rather flash church hall in the Epsom electorate last night at an Act leadership meeting, I knew plenty of people would think I was wasting my time covering a party that has virtually self-destructed and rarely polls over 1 per cent.

When they think of Act, they think of David Garrett and the baby passport scandal, Rodney Hide and his holiday perk, Don Brash's coup, and the Kim Dotcom's $50,000 donation for John Banks' mayoral campaign that everyone knows about except him.

They don't think 'here's a party that could determine whether David Cunliffe is the next Prime Minister" but it could. Whether it gets one, two, five or no MPs, the result matters so the party matters.

Last night's meeting was a public test for the candidates who hope they will save the party with them at the helm.

It wasn't so much 'Act's Got Talent' show but 'Has Act Got Talent'?

It was John Boscawen's idea but ironically it probably helped his rival more, Jamie Whyte.

Boscawen was already a known quantity. He may not be inspiring but he can organise, campaign, and work hard.

Whyte is a relative unknown. He is slick with a pen as a contributor on all manner of subjects to papers such as the The Times and Wall St Journal which means there is no doubt he can write a decent enough speech.

But whether he could perform in public was not known.

Admittedly he wasn't put under anything resembling the pressure of an election campaign last night but he showed he could be nimble on his feet.

He showed his adherence to ideas and principle which will have given supporters a sense of nostalgia for the party's early day, and a sense the fresh way he communicated might give the party new appeal, even a sense of a new party.

He began by contemplating what would happen if the state supplied all our food - the wealthy would have choice and the poor wouldn't - and compared it to the provision of education and health.

He rejected the suggestion that the party was one for ''rich pricks" (Michael Cullen actually said it about John Key, not Act) and said it was a people's party.

When he was asked about his vision for 2020 he said he rejected the question in a sense because he wanted a country where people's own visions and not those of Governments dictated their lives.

He was asked about changing the flag and while he thought it was pretty boring, he didn't want a silver fern which would show New Zealand was "just a life support system for a rugby team."

In some ways young David Seymour was the star of the night, intelligent, witty and articulate.

The former candidate for Auckland Central, he wants to be Epsom candidate and endorsed Jamie Whyte for leader.

They have been painted as a ticket until now.

Whyte however declared last night that he would be going for both the leadership and the Epsom candidacy after being counselled by some of the party's wise old heads it would be too risky to split them.

That has been the position of Boscawen all along, that it is too risky to split them, pointing to the example of Banks as candidate and Brash as leader.

Boscawen took a risk in holding the meeting. It might have been a miserable turnout but it was a respectable 100. It could have been disrupted by enemies outside the party, or even inside but it wasn't.

Boscawen performed reasonably - although he unnecessarily raised the issue of the David Garrett scandal in rehearsing the party's record on law and order legislation.

He left Parliament ion 2011 with more respect than when he entered it in 2008.

He hasn't lost any by providing a public forum to test the party's talent.

- NZ Herald

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

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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