Ever since the myth took hold that John Key became popular quickly because he was not a politician - rather than despite it - others have foolishly thought they could get away with amateurism and be admired for it.

They can't. Not being able to articulate an argument under pressure matters, as former Labour leader David Shearer found out.

Saying "I don't know" to a question can be damaging, as Conservative leader Colin Craig found out on the issue of moon landings.

And saying "I stand by my views" can be extremely damaging if the issue is incest between consenting adults, as emerging politician and Act leader Jamie Whyte discovered.


He may have met some forgiveness in his party for naivety in making the original comment, but Whyte proceeded to compound the damage at the weekend by publicly explaining his error in a live television interview before his speech to the party conference in Mangere, then addressing it in his address to the faithful, and then speaking to the media after his speech where the questions broadened to polygamy.

Meanwhile, the Twitter-sphere abounds with jokes such as Act offering family membership.

Tiny parties are rarely in the spotlight and rarely get the chance to set the news agenda. Whyte squandered his opportunity.

It's pretty simple: if you don't want unimportant things covered, do not talk about them.

It's great copy for the media, but not so great for Act, which elected Whyte, a philosopher and writer, on a platform of taking the party back to its fundamentals of low tax and small government.

In fact, there was little emphasis on that in Whyte's speech and more on populist themes, with repeated references to reforming the welfare system and a new policy of three-strikes-and-off-to-prison for repeat burglary offenders.

It fell to Act co-founder and funder Alan Gibbs to remind the conference of why the party was formed, outlining his version of a utopia where the market is king and could deliver New Zealand the same education and health systems as highly rated Singapore has.

Campaign manager and former leader Richard Prebble was on message, too, talking up the party's campaign capability - its own call centre and a push to 150,000 target members within a month, despite having fallen to just 600 last year.


Despite his blunders, Whyte's intelligence and commitment have given Act a sense of promise, even if the urgency is missing.

But the party can go only so far on promise and apology for not being enough of a politician. There is little time left to deliver.