If David Seymour thinks he might be in government with Winston Peters after the next election, he is dreaming.

To be fair to the young Act leader, he painted the prospect as more of a nightmare than a dream - to be sharing the Treasury benches with the leader who refuses to go gently into the night.

Seymour told my colleague Nick Jones, who interviewed him ahead of today's Act conference, that he would be willing to "take one for the team" and work with Peters if it meant the difference between a Labour-led or National-led government.

But the fact is that if Peters holds the balance of power after the next election, any condition of his support for National will almost certainly be that Act is not part of government.


Peters would not do a deal that involved Act, which he regards as the apostle of the far right, or the Maori Party either, which he regards as a form of apartheid.

Short of a miraculous recovery for the Act Party at the election, such an exclusion would be the best outcome for Act next election.

The hybrid political animal Act has become - in government but not part of the Government - is not working for it.

Seymour's outstanding achievement as the Act leader is that he is not reviled and he has not stuffed up but that is simply not enough.

Seymour's decision not to take a ministerial portfolio but to remain only an under-secretary has allowed him more freedom to criticise National. But when he does so, he is only preaching to the converted.

Richard Prebble did not take Act to its peak of nine MPs by attacking National. He and his team did it by attacking orthodoxies and wasteful spending and coming up with new ideas.

Having Rodney Hide in the caucus as a self-appointed devastating watchdog on the public service was a big factor as well in sustaining the party's successes in 1999 and 2002 but Hide could not sustain it as leader.

The party has made pitiful progress since the caucus of 2008 - 2011 tore itself apart and Hide was replaced with Don Brash who was replaced with John Banks who was replaced with Jamie Whyte who was replaced with David Seymour in 2014 when Whyte, sadly, never made it to Parliament.

Whyte's habit of saying what he believes rather than what he believes people want to hear would have made him immensely controversial if not a popular sidekick to Seymour.

But he is heading back to London to be director of research at the free market think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Seymour always had a Herculean task as a lone MP trying to reinvent a party with such a toxic legacy. So what should he have reasonably achieved after one term?

At the very least people should be able to think of Act without toxic associations, in order to be receptive to the new ideas that should be emanating from the so-called party of ideas.

Seymour has succeeded inside the beltway with a blend of humour and intelligence but his bigger challenge is to get voters thinking anything about Act.

Unfortunately too many people know him for only one thing - his private member's bill on euthanasia. It shows that he is a conviction politician but that is a prerequisite for an Act MP - and it is not even Act policy.

It is a critical time for Seymour. He supposedly leads the party of ideas but he produced too few good ones yet.


Many in the party will be praying the bill does not get drawn from the ballot between now and the election.

For the past few months Seymour has been concentrating on house price inflation - the fact that he is a young Aucklander without his own home gives him more credibility in this field than many politicians. But his solutions hardly capture the imagination: change planning laws to increase supply.

The two areas in which Seymour is rewriting the Act playbook are in its approach to law and order and Maori issues, hot button populist issues in which he is taking a more measured approach.

Nothing could have illustrated the difference to Maori issues more vividly than Seymour's visit to Waitangi this year. One of the most enduring images of Te Tii marae is of former Act leader Don Brash having dirt thrown in his face - although he was National leader at the time.

The younger Act leader, after he was welcomed on to Te Tii Marae, outlined connections to the Ngati Rehia hapu through his great great great grandmother, after which he was invited to sit with the hosts.

Instead of railing against the Treaty of Waitangi, he suggested annual celebrations should be taken around the country.

He opposes the latest reforms to the RMA because of the iwi participation clauses but on the grounds that the RMA already allows for iwi participation.

He opposes National's proposal on the Kermadecs on the grounds it is a confiscation of a property right - fishing rights - with no compensation.

He opposes the co-governance arrangements in Auckland over the volcanic cones but his opposition is not dripping with inflammatory language. In that sense, Seymour represents a true generational change.

The fact that the support parties of the National Government, including the Maori Party, have a close working relationship may also account for the more measured tones.

Law and order is also set to get the Seymour treatment today in his conference speech when he outlines new policy aimed at rehabilitating prisoners, not locking more of them up.

Given Act's history on law and order, it is a significant shift.

Act was a law and order party long before its partnership with the Sensible Sentencing Trust delivered the Three Strikes policy into the statutes books.

It is a critical time for Seymour. He supposedly leads the party of ideas but he produced too few good ones yet.

Assuming Peters holds the balance of power next election, Seymour will be given the best and last opportunity to reinvent Act as meaningful party, in the wilderness.