ACT’s “harsh feel” – the name change debate

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Douglas to Dancing’, a blog I maintained from 2007-9 on the ACT New Zealand political party. The blog was an extension of the thesis I wrote about the Act Party in 2007, From Douglas to Dancing: explaining the lack of success of ACT New Zealand and evaluating its future prospects (PDF).

I think ACT has got that harsh feel to it for me, like I find it quite a hard word to say, oh it sounds German, with the greatest respect to the German people. It sounds like “Achtung!”- “okay!”, whereas we want something warm – Rodney Hide, 30 August 2007*

The one major fault I would have if I were one of Hide’s advisers with his on-air performance on Radio Live today was that he scarcely mentioned the word “ACT” in his programme. Now, maybe he was trying to be fair and not use the air-time as a campaigning vehicle, but given the tax cut sermon he gave each listener I seriously doubt he had any qualms about talking politics. Hide mentioned Labour and National more than he did ACT. Indeed, at one point he said “vote for me!” to a caller. Great if the caller came from Epsom, but bad if he was from any of the other 60 or so electorates who can only tick “ACT New Zealand”. Some people might immediately associate this with Rodney Hide and tick the box (if they like him), but I think for many this will be lost in translation.

Therefore, I think ACT needs to seriously consider changing the formal party name at the March 2008 annual conference to “Rodney Hide’s ACT”. Of course, this action will be tantamount to admitting ACT has become a personality party, but this is merely what most people think already. Hide has previously said that he doesn’t want the party to be renamed after him, but there is already a precedent set for doing this in “Jim Anderton’s Progressive Coalition”. This worked well for Anderton at the 2002 election, but on visiting the Progressive website, I see that “Jim Anderton’s” appears to have been dropped from the party name, leaving just “Progressive Party”. I’m not sure if this is officially registered with the Electoral Commission, but it gives ACT an option. Quietly add Hide’s name to ACT’s registered title at the Electoral Commission in time to appear on ballot papers this November. Then next year, rename the party properly, as ACT has been strongly considering since the 2005 election. Who knows, this time next year ACT may have a couple more MPs, which would make it easier to announce a fresh start with a new name and with less of a personality-driven focus.

*In an interview with me for my dissertation, see the transcript on p. 131 of the PDF

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4 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I doubt the name has anything to do with it.

    When was the last time anyone received a message from ACT telling them how their policies were going to improve their lives? I doubt it’s happened for 5 years. That may have something to do with the reason why they aren’t polling well.

    ACT didn’t need to be known as “Richard Prebble’s ACT Party” to score over 7% for 2 elections, it just made it clear how its policies were going to help the segment of voters it wanted to chase.

    BTW – Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party, like “Christian Heritage – Graeme Capill Party Leader” were electoral stunts that failed to win extra votes.

    ACT doesn’t need a silver bullet like a name change, or a star candidate or an accomodation with National. It actually needs a message that resonates with people, a decent party organisation to promote that message, and in order to do that, it needs to do a host of small things right like get candidate selections done properly, groom people for serious chances at Parliament, and start fundraising like crazy.

  2. Megan says:

    “When was the last time anyone received a message from ACT telling them how their policies were going to improve their lives? I doubt it’s happened for 5 years.”

    I have received two pieces of mail in the last month from Act (i’ve never been on a miling list so i’m assuming it’s gone out to a wide audience).

    A few weeks ago I received a glossy pale blue booklet advertising Rodney and Heather, and some of their policies; and just recently a fridge magnet advertising Heather Roy and a letter. The letter was a generic “Wellingtonian” sort of thing (I live in Rongotai).

  3. Thanks to Anon and Megan for their insights.

    Anon: the difference to ACT led by Richard Prebble and ACT led by Rodney Hide is that Hide dominates the party, whereas Prebble was one of 8 or 9 MPs. Hide’s prominence might not be a bad thing and it has got him some very positive coverage over the last couple of years. But it makes sense to capitalise on it and add his name to the party title, if there is even a small chance of getting another couple of MPs. I’d agree with you that ACT needs to do things like build its organisation and fundraise, but there has to be some sort of catalyst to generate this.

    To Megan: very interesting about what trinkets you have received – it shows that Roy is serious about her Wellington Central campaign. But it will all go to waste unless it inspires enough people to give ACT their party vote as well. How strongly was the party vote emphasised in the material you received?

  4. Megan says:

    Just pointed out that Act has opened an office in central Wellington.

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