Conference 2008: initial impressions

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).

Welcome to Douglas to Dancing‘s extended Conference 2008 coverage. I aim to provide a series of posts over the remainder of the weekend examining the outcomes of the election year conference, held at the Waipuna Lodge in Auckland.

Attendance was modest to begin with but steadily built during the morning. Held in a banquet room, probably only around 80-90 were there to hear party president Garry Mallett open the conference at 9am. This figure built throughout the morning, however, and by the time Sir Roger Douglas gave his speech shortly after midday, I estimated closer to 200 people were there. NZPA estimated the attendance at about 150. It’s clear, however, that some of the delegates only wanted to hear Douglas – after lunch the crowd had thinned out by around 10-20%, even though Rodney Hide was giving his leader’s address. Attendance dropped throughout the afternoon but was still over 100 by my estimates.

Other than myself (!), several media representatives were in attendance. All three TV networks (TVNZ, TV3 and Prime/Sky) had sent their junior reporters (Jessica Mutch for TVNZ, Sea Ashton for TV3 and Caitlin McGee for Prime) – the event clearly not warranting the weekend attendance of stations’ political editors. Newstalk ZB also sent a correspondent, as did NZPA. Like some of the delegates, though, it became obvious that the media were only interested in Douglas – only TVNZ seemed to stay after lunch for Hide’s address and even its crew appeared to pack up mid-way through the speech. There can be no doubt that Douglas’s appearance was responsible for both the reasonable attendance by delegates and significant media coverage for a party polling just 1% of the party vote.

As I spend much of my research time combing through electronic databases and other online sources, it’s always good to get amongst practitioners at a conference like this. This was the second ACT conference I have attended and was quite a contrast in size from the small event the party held in Christchurch this time last year, when it merged the annual meeting with its Southern Regional Conference. It was also good to be able to chat both to the party figures who assisted me with my dissertation and discuss ACT with supporters I had not previously met in person.

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