Act leader Rodney Hide probably won't appreciate me saying this, but he really isn't as scary as he - and his political enemies - make him out to be. Take all his bluster last week about stripping local council spending back to core services. A reiteration, it has to be said, of Act manifesto promises last year. But no sooner had he talked about cutting back on social, economic and "cultural community outcomes" than he was back-tracking, quick to say public libraries were safe - because his mum would never cook him a hot meal again if he had them axed. Now what sort of namby-pamby revolutionary is that?

Up until the 1980s, Labour's enemies used to taunt it by reminding it of its key foundation objective of the "socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange" This feisty slogan had been dropped way back in 1951, but there were a few diehards in the party, and many of its enemies on the outside, who wouldn't let it go. Not until the Rogernomics revolution, when many of the former enemies began funding Labour and the taunt became so ridiculously improbable, it faded away.

The Rogernomes then split off and formed their own party - Act, which trades on its small-government, law-of- the-economic-jungle branding. But just as Labour had long outgrown its "socialisation" dreams, so does Mr Hide seem rather disconnected from Act dogma.

Anyway, I'm happy to judge Mr Hide by his actions in the last parliament - in particular, his and his party's crucial backing for two bills, the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act and the Public Transport Management Act - the latter now facing repeal by the new National-led government.

Both seemed to run totally counter to Act policy - and as North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams was quick to point out last week - counter to Mr Hide's new demand, as Minister for Local Government, that councils cut back to core spending. Actually, Mr Williams went much further, referring to Mr Hide's "breathtaking hypocrisy," which I guess from his side of the fence it must seem. Because as the small-minded mayor of a mean-spirited council that refused to pay its share for regional amenities like the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Westpac rescue helicopter, Mr Williams (and his council) are still smarting over Mr Hide's joining Labour and the Greens to pass the law that forced North Shorites to finally act as citizens of Greater Auckland.

Given Act's hard line on local government activities, this support was indeed surprising. But I preferred to see it as their seeing the light, rather that as an act of hypocrisy. The same went for Act's support for the public transport management act. In that case Mr Hide decided to side with the Auckland Regional Transport Authority's desire for more control over the running of Auckland's public transport network of services. The largest private supplier of bus services in the region, Infratil-owned New Zealand Bus, furiously lobbied parliamentarians to try to head off what they regarded as unjustified interference in their private enterprise activities. Mr Hide's response was that when $94 million worth of public subsidies was involved, the transparencies and monitoring and controls proposed in the new legislation were highly justified, and "pro-market".

Just how he navigated this and his other ideological twists and turns is hard to work out. No doubt it causes great despair among the party ayatollahs. But for me, I've decided Mr Hide's acts speak louder than his - and his party's - words.

Last November, when he became Local Government Minister, I wondered whether he would be carrying out National Party local government policy or Act's, and highlighted the scariest sections of the latter. How, for instance, local government would have "to shed its commercial activity", leaving councils "to the core activities that produce public benefits, such as regulations, flood controls and roads".

Early this year, he said that while there is no formal definition of core services for local government, there was general acceptance that it included transport services, water services and public health and safety. Last week, he added public libraries - because, it seems, his love of hot dinners over-rode any loyalty to party dogma. There must be hope for a politician like that.