A university lecturer said that when she asked a stage one politics class the boilerplate icebreaker, "which politician in New Zealand history would you most like to get a drink with", she was surprised to find the most popular choice was David Seymour.
On further questioning, many had indeed already met the Act leader at one of his ubiquitous campus events.
Seymour is flying high, his party hitting 7% in last week's Colmar Brunton poll. It's quite a turnaround from an anonymous 2017 campaign.
He has leveraged the popular culture cache he gained on Dancing With the Stars. Perhaps more significantly, The End of Life Choice Bill, which Seymour and his deputy (and my former colleague) Brooke Van Velden skilfully piloted towards a likely referendum victory in October, is an effective reminder of the role personal choice plays in contributing to human dignity.
Seymour's own experience with his dying mother means that even those who oppose the bill recognise he is well meaning. A Colmar Brunton poll some months ago showed he was the second most trusted party leader after Ardern.
Judith Collins has tried to dismiss Act's resurgence, saying "they have two jobs: one is to win Epsom and the other is to take out the rest of the New Zealand First vote."
If only. While Act has benefited from electoral accommodations in Epsom, Seymour is more popular in Epsom than National is.
Act has already feasted off NZ First's vote, starting with its lonely opposition to firearms law reform in 2019. There is little flesh left to strip from the carcass of NZ First's support.
Seymour has been criticised for courting the firearms lobby, and for holding an orthodox line on freedom of speech, but these positions are entirely consistent with Seymour's long-held principles of personal freedom, just as his support for end of life choice is.
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He is also free — and able — to speak much more plainly and directly about these issues while National vacillates around the centre — or, for that matter, Ardern, who refuses to say which way she will vote in the cannabis referendum.
As his Epsom neighbour Paul Goldsmith trips and falls from the highwire act of balancing borrowing and spending in his own alternative budget, Seymour simply says we can't afford this. While Collins seemed to think through her statement on hate speech laws out loud, Seymour stared down the camera and said "the last thing New Zealand needs is a government department deciding what you can and can't say".
Ben Thomas is a PR consultant and former National government press secretary. He worked on a short term contract with Act during the 2017 campaign.