Summer speeches 2008: Hide delivers up usual fare but gives some election year hints

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).

Rodney Hide gave his Waitangi Day speech to supporters in Epsom yesterday. There’s not a lot new in the speech itself, unfortunately. It begins with the usual weight loss advice which is getting a bit tired now:

I had the great fortune to meet the President of Remuera Rackets Nigel Nathan who made it his job to get me fit to be MP for Epsom. That has been my Everest. It was a big challenge. The Club here has been fantastic in providing me with facilities and support, advice and encouragement. Two years on and I am 40kgs lighter and fitter than I have ever been in my life. Nigel and Remuera Rackets have given me a whole new life.

Hide said much the same in some speeches last year, such as his July 2007 conference speech. I’ve no doubt that he’s fitter and stronger, but we’re in election year now, not the heady days of Autumn 2006 and Dancing with the Stars. We do get a few nuggets of information in the speech: Hide signals that education and health are going to be priorities for ACT. On education, we get a tantalizing hint:

ACT is working on exciting policy in education that will improve vastly the opportunities for young New Zealanders and their families. We can make a big difference in education. And by making a big difference in Education, we can make a big difference to our country’s future success.

I’m looking forward to hearing what the policy is, but couldn’t we have had something unveiled in the speech itself?! The tradition – established by Brash, Key and now Clark – with start of year speeches is to give a little policy away. Nothing big, but something to get Leighton Smith et al. talking about. It’s going to be hard for ACT to “own” an education policy (an area traditionally dominated by Labour) but the 2005 election proved it was hard for ACT to own a tax policy (its stomping ground) because it was so closely associated with the National Party.

In fact, more interesting than the speech itself is a list of talking points posted by Hide on his blog which seems to have sprung to life again. For one thing, there’s a new slogan:

ACT’s small size and MMP allows us to be the only party to have a consistent and principled political philosophy, best summarised with the phrase, “Free to Choose”.

As well, there’s some more distancing from National –

John Key to win power is understandably adopting Labour Party policy to minimise policy difference’s between National and Labour. Their promise is not to change Labour Party policy, only to tweak and tinker with it.

So rather than a rapprochement with National, which is what I had suspected Hide was looking for, it seems ACT would contemplate a coalition with Labour or National, as he was intimating in late 2006-mid 2007. ACT will have to tread very carefully on this to avoid alienating its supporters, the majority of which I am convinced wants to “get rid of this Labour government”.

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