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ACT choses Whyte for leader, Seymour for Epsom

ACT has chosen Jamie Whyte as its new leader, and his ally David Seymour to contest the party's sole electorate seat, Epsom.

The pair fought off a challenge from former ACT MP John Boscawen, who took a tilt at the leadership and Epsom.

Otago University political science lecturer and commentator Bryce Edwards said Friday that Mr White was seen as the "revival candidate", while the more buttoned-down Mr Boscawen was perceived as the "survival candidate."

Mr Boscawen resigned as party president after the board vote, and told media he would reconsider his financial support for the party. He will not seek a list place or another seat.

Earlier, commentator Matthew Hooton noted the rumour that Mr Boscawen would give $1 million to ACT if elected leader, and $100 if not. Regardless, ACT has now lost Mr Boscawen as president - a key fundraising role in any party.

 "I see the board's decision as a vote of no confidence," Mr Boscawen told media.

Mr Hooton - who backed Mr Whyte and Seymour in a January 13 opinion piece for NBR - saw the choice as clear cut. 

"The party to yet again look backward as it did unsuccessfully with Sir Roger Douglas in 2008 and Don Brash and John Banks in 2011. Worse, it would be for ACT to sacrifice its self-respect, with there being little doubt Mr Boscawen is National’s preferred candidate after Rodney Hide rejected its overtures," Mr Hooton said Friday.

"In contrast, Dr Whyte is the real deal: he really does believe in radically reducing the size and powers of the state. He is not one to acquiesce to corporate welfare in exchange for a handful of charter schools. Mr Joyce and John Key will find it more difficult working with Dr Whyte than with Mr Boscawen, Mr Banks or even Mr Hide but that is as it should be." (Read Mr Hooton's reaction to today's events here.)

Auckland Grammar old-boy David Seymour (30) is a former ACT on Campus leader. Between December 2011 and December 2012 he worked as a ministerial speech writer and advisor; since that time he has worked the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education, a think tank based in Calgary, Canada.

Dr Jamie Whyte (48) recently returned from the UK, where he was a philosophy lecturer at Cambridge University. He told the Sunday Star Times he would not go to war on Treaty issues, adding “I’ve got no interest in Maori-bashing as a political game.” Mr Hooton notes his work has included a scholarly defence of the legalisation of drugs, up to and including P.

"Dr Whyte has pushed the boundaries of classical liberalism," Mr Hooton says.

Dr Edwards says in his latest Politics Daily roundup, "Currently polling at zero percent, ACT is largely seen to be more of a zombie party. Its reputation has been tarnished through numerous scandals as well as an acknowledgement by most that it has shifted away from its radical origins as a party of free market liberalism. There seems to be a consensus in the party in favour of some sort of ‘return to ACT values’."

Relative newcomer to party politics Dr Whyte was the leadership candidate most associated with this view, Dr Edwards says.

John Banks announced his intention to resign as ACT leader on December 4.

"We need a circuit breaker. The narrative can't continue to being all about me," said Mr Banks, who is facing an electoral fraud trial relating to a $50,000 mayoral campaign donation from Kim Dotcom.

Mr Banks says he will step down as ACT MP for Epsom at the general election.

Mr Boscawen initially said he would not seek the leadership or Epsom candidacy, but post-Christmas changed his mind - reportedly after National Party overtures (another favoured National candidate, Rodney Hide, turned the party down, saying he did not want to return to politics).

Beyond being perceived as too safe a choice by some party members, Mr Boscawen has been dogged by a video of him taking a lamington to the head during a 2009 speech.

Comments and questions

Excellent result.
Longtime ACT supporter.

Completely at the opposite site of the spectrum from ACT, but it is good to see flesh blood on all sides of the spectrum..

I certainly hope John Boscawen reconsiders and gets on the list, hopefully at no. 2. He is refreshingly frank and honest and should be in parliament. I'll party vote Act if he is on the list.


Hate to have to agree.

Mr Seymour will not win Epsom whereas Mr Boscawen might well have.

No Epsom = no MPs = no ACT.

Baby and bathwater. A great shame.

The good people of Epsom are intelligent enough to give their consituency vote to ACT regardless of candidate. Where the difference lies is that Mr Boscawen would have been a lone ACT MP in Parliament. With a fresh leadership there is much more reason for liberal voters outside Epsom to give their party vote to ACT, and my guess is there will be a respectable ACT caucus after the next election.

I think so too. Will Colin Craig field a contender to split the vote and effectively kill off ACT? It would be a (typical) mistake for ACT to have Boscawen come back on the list after his public dummy spit.

Excellent result.
And we look forward to a revitalised ACT.
As an aside, the comment that Boscowan was favoured by National was probably the "kiss of death" for him.

An irrelevant ultra right wing party going down to its death.
A cracking result.

ACT policy is exactly what national is meant to do. Instead we have two labour parties.

Great. Now we will see exactly how much support there is for ACT and their views. What are people's predictions?

My guess: between 5% and 8% of the electorate. ACT only sank to near zero because after the Brash/Banks putsch it was not meaningfully differentiated from National. Now we have a genuine liberal alternative with the promise of keeping National honest, rather than just propping it up.

Act now have their own David Shearer as leader.

True, the difference being that ACT voters value a thinker, Labour a rabble rouser. ACT's past error was in having a Cunliffe analogue as leader in the form of John Banks.

Predicitions - the death of ACT as we know it.

Act is trying to revitalise itself with 2 new brooms. It may work if not we haven't really lost anything.
As for John Bascowan sounds a bit like tossing the toys out of the cot because he didn't get his own way. Time that this kind of old school thinking was dead and buried

Agree that Boscowen was their one shot at Epsom. They seem to have exhausted their supply of pre-established political reputations looking for a post National career.

What new manner of hell does Peters have to cain us with - and our electoral system - over all this?

You'd have to wonder if the party bosses ever gave Paul Goldsmith the glad eye. How far will his good will extend?

Re . He told the Sunday Star Times he would not go to war on Treaty issues, adding “I’ve got no interest in Maori-bashing as a political game.”

Well now we know that Whyte is totally lightweight, reducing crucial important issues to dismissive soundbites.

Good to see ACT is now finished. Its extremist, only-the-economy counts is a hangover from the far too facile far-Right ideology which neglected the consequences of too hastily implemented policies causing so much hardship to so many - and I'm not left-wing!

NZ is now a far less happy country, and the stress affecting good people is taking its toll everywhere one looks. Good riddance to ACT. Not that the rest are any better.

I think they made the right choice. But the $64,000 question is, is it too late for election 2014?

It would be a pity if Boscowen walked away from the party entirely, although I can understand his disappointment and feelings. Maybe he can find or invent a role for himself that he feels comfortable with. But the party, if it is to survive let alone prosper, needs new faces at the helm rather than a repeat of the old. There is no going back to the future here, just like 80's fashion, that would be all wrong.

At last a return to the ACT of 1994.