In Long Live Freedom, a 2013 Italian film, drained opposition party leader Enrico Olivieri senses his impending political oblivion and decides to disappear from the public eye. In his absence, his right-hand man hatches an ingenious plan to extract the politician's twin brother, Giovanni, from a mental health clinic and have him appear in lieu of his more subdued sibling.

The stunt works wonders. Where Enrico was dour and uninspiring, Giovanni is a consummate entertainer who captivates the masses and drives the party to victory. It's a reminder that politics can be an elaborate pantomime, easily hijacked by the most entertaining figure in the room.

Act leader David Seymour doesn't have the privilege of an eccentric twin to twerk on his behalf. He needs to shift his arse into both gears as he simultaneously plays the dual roles of media buffoon on Dancing With the Stars and serious politician. It's a conundrum perhaps best captured by what transpired on June 12.


At a time when Seymour's ears were no doubt still ringing from the widespread mockery about his butt gyrating on television, he put an oral question to the Prime Minister on whether she believed the Ministry of Social Development works hard to protect the integrity of the welfare system.

The disconnect between those two versions of the same person goes a long way towards illustrating the scale of the political risk Seymour is taking as his awkward dancing adventure is extended by the cringe-hungry voting audience. In politics, perception is everything – and Seymour's prominent media image is currently wrapped in lycra.

Sherson Willis corporate affairs director Thomas Pryor, whose experience includes political adviser roles in both the New Zealand and UK parliaments, says he isn't surprised by Seymour's decision to tango with ridicule.

"Frankly, he had to do something because the Act brand was sinking into insignificance," Pryor tells the Herald.

"He's run out of options. He's tried everything else, but Act's polling has just been flat-lining. So he's taken this high-risk, high-reward approach."

Pryor says the jury is still out on whether the strategy will reinvigorate the Act brand, but it has certainly allowed Seymour to two-step into the public consciousness.

"He might take a dent in his credibility on some issues, but he also has a whole lot of people talking about him who otherwise wouldn't be talking about him. And if there's a new generation of younger voters who engage and then go and look at their policies, that's probably a win for him."

Pryor also sees potential to humanise the Act brand, which Seymour inherited from former leader Rodney Hide, who memorably dropped his partner when appearing on the show in 2015.


"It could play a big role in making Seymour likeable, and by default the Act brand more likeable," says Pryor.

"That's something he's really struggled with, because Act's had these tarnished hard-right connotations for a lot of voters. If he can come across as a likeable, reasonable guy, then that's actually a big step forward."

In that regard, Seymour's indefatigable penchant for awkwardness could work in his favour. After all, cringe factor was an essential ingredient in the media makeup of one of New Zealand's most popular recent politicians.

"Kiwis really like the awkward dad factor in our politicians, and John Key did this incredibly well. I still remember when he did this awkward mince down the runway in promoting the Rugby World Cup a few years ago," says Pryor.

"We really like politicians who can laugh and take the piss out of themselves. If Seymour was a good dancer, this would be worse for him. But because he's up there, kind of laughing at himself and having a good time as well, that's coming through in the votes."

Goofiness, however, can go too far.

At the end of Long Live Freedom, the audience is left in limbo, not knowing whether power will remain in the hands of the lovable lunatic or be handed over to his sensible brother.

Seymour faces a similar challenge. Will he be able to wrestle his reputation back from his lycra-clad twerking alter-ego, or will that be all voters think of when they see his name in the future?

The answer to that question may shed light on the future of the Act Party.

Seymour's social swagger

Analytics firm Zavy tracked the social media sentiment towards politicians through comments on Facebook over the past 90 days and Seymour came out with a net score of 50 per cent positive.

For comparison, Jacinda Ardern came out with a net score of only 16 per cent positive, while Simon Bridges had 15 per cent.

While their sample sizes were far smaller, Shane Jones had a net score of 15 per cent negative, while Paula Bennett was further back at 72 per cent negative.

Zavy CEO David Bowes says Seymour can also take a positive from the fact that he has been mentioned far more frequently than other politicians, such as Winston Peters, Chole Swarbrick and Andrew Little, who didn't even register enough mentions to accurately calculate a sentiment score.

Bob Jones hit by the Streisand effect

In another example of a New Zealander with an awkward relationship with the media, multi-millionaire property investor Sir Bob Jones this week faced an onslaught of unwanted attention.

Earlier in the week, Jones sent a cease and desist letter to Waikato University academic Leonie Pihama over her use of the word "racist" to describe him in a tweet.

Rather than apologise as requested, Pihama penned a post on her personal blog and tweeted out the full letter to her followers.

This sparked an immediate response from the broader Twitter community, which proceeded to taunt Jones with the description used by Pihama and called on him to send out more cease and desist notices.

As often shown by the Streisand Effect (so-called because of Barbra Streisand's effort to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu in 2003), legal action isn't always the best way to limit the spread of information – particularly in the digital age.