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.

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