When Act leader David Seymour door-knocked before the last election many Epsom residents didn't know what he was selling.

Nearly three years later and Seymour, still a boyish 33 years old, doesn't need to explain himself so often.

"The main things I notice is I no longer have a recognition problem. When I started out it would sort of be some kid coming up someone's driveway introducing myself.

"Now what I find is I go and say, 'Hi, I'm David'. And they say, 'Yeah, we know'. So that is really positive."


Bill English is likely to give the same nod to voters in Epsom to support Seymour, and, while stressing he takes nothing for granted, the Act leader believes he is on track to retain the seat.

The far bigger challenge is to rebuild his party's support. Act has struggled to top the 1 per cent mark in polling since the 2014 election, despite Seymour winning praise for his performance as leader.

"We have to get some momentum behind Act and resurrect it as a party vote party, and that means getting to, at minimum, 1.3, 1.4 per cent to get a second MP," Seymour said.

On Saturday Act has its final annual conference before this year's election. At last year's event right-wing political commentator Matthew Hooton bluntly told attendees that Act should regard itself as a "22-year-old start-up".

The key to changing that was to be harder on National, Hooton said, given it had little choice but to re-endorse Seymour in Epsom in 2017.

Asked if he had been tough enough on National, Seymour said he frequently criticised them on issues like housing and the failure to provide tax cuts or look at raising the superannuation age.

"I gave a speech a few weeks ago where I said the reason there has been no action on the housing crisis is because the average National MP owns 2.2 houses and doesn't care. I don't know if that's enough, but it's reasonably bold stuff I would have thought," he said.

Polling indicates New Zealand First leader Winston Peters could be king-maker later this year. On the prospect of being in Government with Peters, Seymour said he would be prepared to "take one for the team".


"If you have to choose between having him in Government with us, or him going with Labour and the Greens, then I guess I'd probably take one for the team. But I don't think that's a desirable outcome. The best you can say for the guy he is a charismatic crook."

Unlike the average National MP, Seymour still rents and said he wasn't likely to change that anytime soon, "given that if I did have a house I would barely be there".

As party leader, Parliamentary Under-Secretary to Education and Regulatory Reform Ministers and MP for Epsom, Seymour said his hours worked almost matched those spent awake.

He spoke to the Herald from Dunedin, before heading to the Captain Cook pub for an O Week meet and greet with students.

"A lot of it is not what most people would regard as work - you spend a lot of time in transit, meeting people or going to functions ... but it is still stuff you have to do, and it ends up being easily 80 hours a week. It is certainly pretty full on.

"We are lucky we have a pretty friendly, cooperative democracy. You look at all these people that are rude on Twitter, you wonder where they are in real life. They don't seem to exist."

Now single after a recent relationship, Seymour said at least once a week he made a point of escaping the bubble and catching up with some of his older friends, including from his time at Auckland Grammar.

Despite the workload, Seymour said he wants to devote most of his 30s to rebuilding Act as a classical, liberal party. Tomorrow the party of three-strikes will unveil policy to rehabilitate prisoners.

Last year's conference used precious exposure on an environmental policy to sell Landcorp to fund native wildlife sanctuaries. Has Act gone soft?

"I think it is something old, something new," Seymour said of recent policies. "Act has always been a liberal party and a party of new ideas. That goes back the founding of the party. It was founded on a manifesto that had been audited by five different accounting firms. It has always been a policy-heavy party."

Act Party: A Brief History

•1996 Election - 6.1 per cent: Act elected to Parliament in first MMP election with eight MPs; leader Richard Prebble wins Wellington Central after a tacit endorsement from National PM Jim Bolger

•1999 Election - 7.04 per cent: Act wins nine seats, although leader Richard Prebble loses Wellington Central.

•2002 Election - 7.14 per cent: Act wins nine seats again, no electorate seats.

•2005 Election - 1.51 per cent: Against predictions, new leader Rodney Hide wins the seat of Epsom and brings Heather Roy into Parliament.

•2008 Election - 3.65 per cent: Rodney Hide retains Epsom and brings in four other MPs, including John Boscawen. Act signs a confidence and supply agreement with National

• 2011 Election - 1.07 per cent. No former Act MPs stand. Ex-National leader Don Brash leads the party to its worst result after ousting Rodney Hide as leader in coup and replacing Hide with ex-National MP John Banks as Act candidate in Epsom. Brash resigns. Banks becomes leader.

• 2013 December. Banks is committed to trial on charges of filing a false electoral return relating to his 2010 Auckland mayoral bid and announces his intention to resign as leader in February and retire at the 2014 election.

• 2014 February: Jamie Whyte made leader, David Seymour made Epsom candidate.

• 2014 Election: 0.69 per cent: David Seymour wins Epsom but no more MPs. Seymour made leader and appointed parliamentary under-secretary for education and regulatory reform.

• 2015 December - Seymour turns down offer of ministerial post by Prime Minister John Key.