Hide left to pick up the Peters

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 recall once reading an article on ACT which compared Rodney Hide’s perkbusting campaigns with rubbish collecting: it’s something that has to be done, but you don’t have to be enamoured with the rubbish collector. In other words, don’t expect a boost in support for pursuing scandals.

Perhaps that’s what happened with Rodney Hide and the Winston Peters saga. Despite Peters’s claims to the contrary, it’s clear that Peters was involved in something shady. No, the Serious Fraud Office did not find enough evidence to proceed further, but that doesn’t mean that Hide was wrong to pursue the complaint. But ACT hasn’t noticeably profited from the scandal, in terms of a substantive boost to its share of party vote.

To be sure, on his session on Radio Live last week, Hide distanced any association between his Peters complaints and his perkbusting of the 1990s. According to him, the 2008 version was different because he wasn’t bursting with glee over the whole thing and drip-feeding titbits in Question Time. Instead, Hide said, he made official complaints through the proper channels and didn’t feed it via the media. Ultimately, he said, Peters would be judged by two groups: the authorities and the voters.

But whether Hide likes it or not, for many voters his tackling Peters this year has brought back memories of the “old Hide” and his perkbusting. Indeed, it was the Radio Live host (James Coleman) who put the similarity to Hide; several callers into the show congratulated Hide on his work in the Peters affair. So there is a fair comparison.

I think the rubbish collecting analogy is a good explanation as to why ACT has not profited electorally. I think there were and are plenty of people grateful for Hide’s tackling of Peters. John Key would be one of them, because it meant he did not have to get directly involved. But as with Hide’s perkbusting campaigns in the 1990s, voters see the Peters saga as a sideshow. What else could a party on 3% (that’s NZ First I’m talking about, not ACT) be? For most non-political watchers, the whole “Owen Glenn thing” is too messy to understand in any event.

Many voters – some 97% or so – would be quite happy to see the end of Winston Peters in the upcoming election.

Many voters are quite happy that Rodney Hide has taken out the “rubbish”.

And many voters – some 94% or so – will be quite happy to choose neither ACT nor New Zealand First on November 8.

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