02 April 2015

Is ACT now irrelevant?

With only 0.69% of the party vote at the 2014 election, and holding on to one electorate seat by the grace and favour of John Key, is the Act Party doomed to political debt-slavery under National and eventual extinction, or does it have a chance of revival? Between the 1999 and 2002 elections, ACT used to score above 7% and had 9 MPs. That gave it some clout and voice in parliament. There is a chance that, as National's support ebbs away, some of that right-wing vote may head back to ACT, and so the party's stocks may rise. This assumes that ACT's recent poor polling is due largely to National's success under Key's leadership. But it's a long haul for ACT to get back over the 5% threshold and to escape from dependency upon National for its hold on Epsom. There is also the chance that, once National lose office, the Epsom deal may be dropped, and ACT will die at the following election.
ACT's founding principles of individual responsibility, free-market economy and limited government are not altogether foreign to New Zealanders. But ACT's particularly dry version of those principles has been proven to be a little too extreme to gain wider support. The party's founders, Sir Roger Douglas (ex-Labour) and Derek Quigley (ex-National) are indelibly associated with 'Rogernomics', the radical reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, and very few New Zealanders have an appetite for more of that. Later, under Rodney Hide, ACT resorted instead to populist topics like tougher sentencing in order to gain attention. But it simply hasn't worked. And antics like the take-over of the party by Don Brash and John Banks in April 2011 have not helped the party to build a credible brand.
For the time being it suits National to keep ACT hanging on in Epsom, along with United Future in Ohariu. Between them, those two minor parties soaked up a mere 0.9% of the party vote in 2014, but they delivered to National two supporting seats, thus providing the majority needed to govern. That's relatively good value for National. And all that it takes is a nod and a wink to the voters in those two electorates.
Only about 1,000 people gave their party vote to ACT in Epsom in 2014, but nearly 16,000 voted for the ACT candidate, David Seymour, thus giving him a majority of 4,250. That means that 15,000 National-supporting Epsom voters followed Mr Key like good sheep to ensure that the ACT brand remained in parliament.
Mr Seymour is hardly the kind of strong or charismatic figure who can lead ACT out of its electoral dilemma. So, that party may last a couple more elections, but it's heading for oblivion.


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