Election year underway for ACT
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 may have spoken too soon. Since I wrote my last post, the first ACTion member e-mail newsletter for the year has appeared in my inbox, and the party seems to be well underway with election year preparations. The first item of interest is that Rodney Hide will be giving his “Forward Thinking” speech on February 6, i.e. Waitangi Day, to the Remuera Racquets Club in Epsom. This will be at least the second “Forward Thinking” speech given by Hide and seems to have become his “State of the Nation” address. It’s good to see it coming much earlier (six weeks or so) than last year, as it will build on the addresses to be given by John Key and Helen Clark this week. I don’t know whether we can read too much into the Waitangi Day date. It’s possible that Hide is planning some sort of “nationhood” address, but unless it’s got an economic focus it won’t really tie in with the party’s current aims. February 6 may simply be a convenient day for members to come along, as it is also to be a social event. Readers of Hide’s autobiography My Year of Living Dangerously will recall the Remuera Racquets club is where Hide’s get-fit programme began. He seems to have built up quite a rapport with the club, which is the sort of thing which can only be good for a local MP. I await the speech with interest.
Elsewhere in ACTion several events are listed involving ACT MP and candidate for the Wellington Central seat in 2008, Heather Roy. Tomorrow, she will be holding a Wellington regional meeting which will presumably set the framework for her candidacy in the Wellington Central seat. In the coming weeks she will also be co-leading two workshops (in Christchurch and Wellington) for “ACTivists”, or intending candidates for the election, along with Vince Ashworth, who is based in the Piako electorate. In 2000 and 2001 two editions of campaigning guidebooks written by Ashworth were published by ACT, which were exhaustive “how-to” guides explaining everything a local electorate committee needs to know to run a successful campaign, right down to the laws behind raffle ticket sales. The fact that Ashworth and Roy are running seminars in both islands suggests that ACT is still keen on having a national organisation supporting the party at the election.
The question remains, however, whether there are enough dedicated followers left in the party to do everything needed for the election. Remember, 2008 will be the first election ACT has campaigned in with just 2 MPs, so volunteers will be more crucial than ever.* Yet a local ACT candidate I interviewed for my dissertation felt that local support for ACT had dwindled to a shadow of its former self by the 2005 election, with little sign of improvement since then evident. In the seats Hide and Roy will be contesting, Epsom and Wellington Central, volunteers may be easier to recruit, if the Epsom experience in 2005 is anything to go by. But in seats without a top candidate, but where ACT could be mining the party vote, enthusiasm may be a lot harder for ACT to drum up, especially if an improved poll rating (even to just 3%) is not in sight by mid-year. But you cannot fault the enthusiasm of the likes of Ashworth, who I think must epitomise the term party stalwart.
* Admittedly, ACT was technically worse off when campaigning at the 1996 election, when it had no MPs at all in parliament.