ACT List 2008: what would be a “dream team”?

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).

There are just hours to go until the ACT List is scheduled to be revealed – today, August 16. I’m not aware of any delays to the announcement and so hope to put some commentary later today on the release. In the meantime, here is some healthy speculation and wild guessing to get your teeth into.

Back in February, we were told that Sir Roger Douglas would be just one of a “dream team” of candidates that ACT would announce during the course of the year. Yet there have been few, if any, truly stellar candidates unveiled. That’s not to say that some interesting names did not appear in the list of candidates who put themselves forward to be ranked by members: Pauline Gardiner for one is an intriguing proposition. Depending on her list placing and how strong her profile becomes, as a former National cum United MP up until 1996 she would be better placed than most to win over more moderate National supporters.

Other people in the list ranking exercise of interest include Kenneth Wang, who heads ACTs “Asian Chapter” and Hardev Brar, a businessman of Indian background who was on ACT’s List in 2005. As Winston Peters likes to remind us, the “Asian” voter bloc in New Zealand is a growing one. If ACT can harness this even to a small degree it will be doing well.

Who else could be on a “dream team” for ACT? What follows are some ideas in no particular order of who could and/or should be on the ACT List today. A note that this is pure speculation – enjoy!

  • Paul Holmes. Pictured with Rodney Hide at the ACT function in the Herald on Sunday the day after the election in 2005. Gave flattering comments on Hide’s autobiography in 2007. Gave media training to Don Brash, proponent of ACT-like ideas. Is retiring from radio at the end of 2008 – perhaps would like a chance to be finally openly partisan and stay in the public limelight. Still has a big public profile, particularly in Auckland. A natural communicator who would package ACT ideas more appealingly. Would be a good number 3 pick. Cons: viewers did not follow him to Prime TV; no guarantee they would follow him to ACT either. Would have to get out of radio contract early to get Hosking in the chair well before the ratings period in October.
  • Jenny Shipley and other former National figures. You want National’s vote? Try putting some National faces on the campaign and send a message to National supporters that not everyone is a Key fan. Shipley is from the right of National, has been out of politics for a while and is perhaps longing for another chance to tackle Helen Clark in a TV debate. She has business experience with her company “Jenny Shipley New Zealand Ltd” which she formed after leaving politics. Also try Max Bradford, ardent supporter of the free market and famous for privatising the electricity sector.
  • Maurice Williamson and other current National figures. Williamson has been sidelined since 1999 in National. He’s also from the right of the party and is not a Key acolyte. What better way to draw attention to ACT than a bust-up within National over the centrist positions taken by Key? As a current MP, Williamson could defect to ACT right now and boost ACT’s parliamentary profile (the “waka jumping” legislation no longer applies).
  • Immigrant dairy owners. They’re hard-working small businessmen, supporters of low taxes and unfortunately all too often suffer the effects of violent crime – an ideal platform for ACT’s law and order policy. They are the face of much of Auckland. They’re non-white, an asset for a party stereotyped as a gang of “rich white men”.
  • Charlie Pedersen (head of Federated Farmers). If ACT could capture more of the rural vote, it could easily boost its party vote up to 4-5%. Currently this is the preserve of National. ACT has some rural faces, as noted in my last post, but none who carry significant political weight in the rural community. As the head of FF, Pedersen would send a strong message to rural National voters that the Nats aren’t the only choice in 2008. With the loss of Gerry Eckhoff as an MP in 2005, ACT lacks a farmer on board; Hide has given the party a very urban feel with his focus on the Epsom electorate. Con: Pedersen is not in the best of health. Also try: Craig Norgate (managed the Fonterra merger, now heading PGG Wrightson).
  • Barry Colman – ACT has a reputation for being a party of “big business” but going by the names in my last post is really a party of small businessmen – essentially the lesser known petit bourgeois. Colman, on the other hand, is one of the country’s few big businessmen (publisher of the NBR) and carries significant weight in the business world.
  • Theresa Gattung – all the benefits of Colman with the extra benefit that she is a woman. With fewer than 20% females ACT could certainly do with a few more to balance up matters.
  • Roger Kerr, Graeme Scott, Catherine Judd…these are definitely “old ACT” faces but a dream team needs to also satisfy the party base. Graeme Scott, former Treasury secretary, is obviously popular with free marketeers and missed out in 2005 despite the plum 3rd position on ACT’s List due to the disastrous election result.
  • Tim Shadbolt – against the EFA and the subject of my speculative piece earlier this year. Extremely popular as a personality and particulary with the elderly – could help ACT to pick up some of the grey vote. Might be looking for a chance to get into national politics, especially if he’s looking for a new challenge. Think of him as a cuddly Winston Peters.
  • You. In the spirit of TIME magazine’s 2006 “Person of the Year”. Let’s be honest – voters don’t scrutinise the ACT list that closely, especially down at place 46 or so. If you’re reading this blog, you’re obviously interested in ACT and quite likely support their ideas. Why not pop along to see Nick Kearney – the party secretary whose street address is at the top of ACT’s website and other materials as part of ACT’s authorisation message – and get him to put you on the list of hopefuls?!

Those are the wild guesses – but the reality may unfortunately turn out to be much more ordinary…

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