When a party is close to death, the only theme to push can be one of turning things around – hence, Audrey Young reports that the Act Party meeting this weekend aimed at 'rejuvenation'
, and she quotes John Banks as saying the party is re-emerging as ‘reinvigorated, re-tooled and refocused’. Elsewhere, party backer Alan Gibbs says the party’s former supporters need ‘re-awakening’. Perhaps we can look forward to a new branding as the ‘Re-Act’ party.
There’s some internal disagreement about how ACT should go about finding ‘salvation’, especially whether the party should emphasise its ‘flagship charter schools policy’ – see Andrea Vance’s ACTion man 'not a saviour' but still committed
. Apparently leader John Banks thinks the policy is a winner for Act, Hide says it’s the party’s ‘greatest achievement, but Gibbs says ‘Charter schools are important but they are not the central issue for ACT’. The party also made it obvious in the weekend that the current big issue of housing unaffordability was going to be a target too – with plans announced to give ‘property owners back the freedom to develop their own land’ – see Andrea Vance’s ACT backs development as housing solution
At the conference John Banks confirmed he plans to stand again for Epsom. And his party emphasised its intention to get National to once again support Banks as part of an Act party lifeline to save National from being utterly dependent on New Zealand First and the Maori Party – see Newswire’s ACT unveils desperate push for Epsom
. However, such a strategy, according to John Armstrong, is part of Act’s problem: ‘Scaring National voters does not seem to be much of an election strategy’ – see: Down – but not out
The problem for ACT is that its reputation is just too tarnished to allow any sort of re-build. What’s more the party’s leader, John Banks, is particularly damaged. And the Herald has reported this weekend that his reputation might suffer further due to a re-emerging controversy about his role in finance company Huljich Wealth Management – see: Banks faces legal threat
A bigger problem for ACT, however, is its apparent ideological emptiness. Act's crisis is really a reflection or symptom of a situation where politicians no longer feel they have a clearly defined purpose. Although ACT is ostensibly a libertarian and radical movement, its various leaders have turned it into a highly pragmatic vote chasing and boring mainstream party. This problem is best conveyed in John Armstrong’s very good conference report, Act conference more hibernation than rejuvenation
. Armstrong says that ‘What was really missing from the conference, however, was a big bang-like statement which would resonate with the wider public and announce "Act's back" in no uncertain terms. Rather than rejuvenation, there has been hibernation’. He points out that Act’s ‘strategists seem at a loss’ to find a way forward.
The party has a seemingly hopeless struggle on its hands.
As TV3’s Brook Sabin reports, the latest opinion polls put the party on only 0.1% yet it’s aiming to increase that to 5% - ‘That's a 4900 percent increase in support’, tending to suggest the party current inhabits a fantasyland. Surely even Act's most ardent supporters realise by now that the game is all but up? Ironically, the most useful role that Act is now playing is in blocking any other right-wing party from being established and flourishing. As long as Act continues to just survive, it sucks away resources, activists and potential – not just from nascent parties like John Ansell's proposed new party, or the Conservatives – but also from the establishment of a truly radically economic and socially-liberal party of the right.
For all that, with a minister in the Government, Act still has influence, and with the Maori Party possibly on its way out, the Banks vote becomes proportionately more valuable. By holding on to Banks during the Dotcom scandal last year, Key showed that he was willing to keep Act alive. This could mean Banks will be given some sort of free run in Epsom in 2014. So the party might be shadow of what it once was, but it continues to demand serious attention.
Other recent important or interesting items include the following:
Bill English and Tony Ryall are looking decidedly sombre due to the ills of Solid Energy says Tracy Watkins in Miners' woes make asset sales harder
. She argues that the SOE’s problems could have a ‘calamitous’ political cost for National.
Q: When do (some) leftists say they welcome job losses? A: When those jobs are in the environmentally unfashionable mining industry. Blogger, No Right Turn says, Let Solid Energy fail
What is 218 plus 191? Almost half of 9-year-olds could not answer this in a test, which shows why New Zealand is languishing behind other countries in maths. Hekia Parata is looking to do something about it – see Andrew Laxon’s Govt eyes back to basics in maths
Whanau Ora is seen variously as about the ‘empowerment of families’ or ‘a magnet for corruption’. Anthony Hubbard has an in-depth evaluation of the scheme in Whanau Ora helps families recover