Summer theatre

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).

Bad news. My “prediction” of just a couple of weeks back about John Key announcing a National-ACT deal in his Burnside speech has been dealt a bitter blow (to keep it in TV speak). There won’t be any Burnside speech. According to a report in today’s Dominion-Post, Key will in fact be giving his New Year speech at Ellerslie, with Helen Clark snapping on his heels the next day.

Now if it had been Epsom, not Ellerslie, we might have been cooking.

But while National and Labour will soon be full of oratory, ACT won’t be. As far as I know, Hide is not planning any major speech until later in the year. Last year, he gave a New Year address in March, to the Newmarket Club. [Incidentally, according to a Focus on Politics programme, aired on National Radio some weeks later, the Newmarket Club closed down shortly after the speech owing to a dwindling membership].

Now, that speech, entitled “Forward Thinking” was interesting to a degree, as it revealed Hide’s new “High Performance Government” and “Smart Green” policies (actually, Smart Green especially is more of a slogan than a policy, with little detail announced). But it hardly set the political agenda – in fact, I don’t recall hearing any mention of it in the news media apart from the Focus on Politics programme later on. Given that I spent last year combing for any material on ACT I could lay my hands on, this probably means that there wasn’t any coverage.

This sleepy start to the year which ACT now seems to enjoy stands in stark contrast to the days when Richard Prebble gave much-vaunted “State of the Nation” speeches as early as mid-January. I cited a transcript of a speech (sent to ACT members) in January 2001, at a top Auckland hotel (which I strongly suspect was packed with audience members). Each year, Prebble used to make a point of making a prediction and reminding the audience of his accuracy with the previous year’s forecast. To his credit, the predictions did seem prescient to me, although I can’t recall the detail of what they were.

Moreover, ACT used to spend the summer putting out press releases, often the product of the party’s research unit. I recall one summer listening to the Tim Dower holiday breakfast on Newstalk ZB just after Christmas and hearing about a study put out by ACT which claimed Maori took more in benefits than they paid in tax. Of course, such a polemical study was no doubt scientifically designed to catch the attention of voters, and the talkback lines lit up like the studio Christmas tree if I remember rightly.

This summer, voters have only been able to savour press releases from the likes of National’s justice spokesman Simon Power working himself up into a lather about prisons’ LCD TVs. Once upon a time, ACT would have jumped to put this sort of material out. Now, it seems that ACT is still on holiday. Currently, the ACT website has but a couple of solitary press releases from Heather Roy on nothing much, plus a two-week old obligatory release from party leader Rodney Hide recording his sorrow at the passing of Sir Edmund Hillary.

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