The final chapter
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).
Clearly, the new strategy has at least as many pitfalls as strengths. But as a party which recorded just 1.5 per cent of the party vote at the last election, ACT New Zealand has little to lose. Moreover, it is difficult to find fault with the party for attempting to address in a serious way the very problems I found to be causes of its past lack of success. Since the 2005 election, Hide has made comprehensive attempts to change ACT’s policies, brand and to make the party matter to voters. Ultimately, only ACT’s performance in the 2008 election will determine whether these attempts succeed in bringing the party out of the doldrums or will only mire it in further difficulty. Rodney Hide’s ACT New Zealand is, after all, living dangerously.
The above (with emphasis added) was the concluding paragraph to my 2007 dissertation. Such is the danger of dealing with current events that much of my concluding chapter, which examined ACT’s 2007 rebranding attempts, have since been superceded by a return by ACT to the hard-right. Gone is Rodney Hide, “Mr. Nice Guy”. Gone is a refocusing on “positive” messages. Gone is a desire to work with all other parties, including Labour. Thinking of the dozens of hardline crime billboards currently dotting New Zealand, I can only chuckle at some of the commentary in the 2007 conclusion, despite being fully accurate at the time of writing:
…ACT appears to be more deemphasising its socially conservative stances. Buried deeper in publicity material published in 2007, one finds support from ACT for “law and order policies that protect our citizens and deal forcibly with thugs and bullies”. Hide may not be completely reversing ACT’s socially conservative position, but he is certainly de-emphasising it in favour of a renewed economic focus.
I was always conscious that the hand-in date in October 2007 was never really going to be the end of the story and that one more election – at least – would be needed to see what would become of ACT. Would it remain the rump to which it had dwindled to by 2005? Or would it re-emerge in a phoenix-like rise from the ashes? We will have at least a preliminary answer to this tomorrow.
But this will still not be the end of the matter. If ACT does help to form the next government, it will begin to implement its personnel and its policy. How successful it is in this endeavour will be the next very real test. Both New Zealand First and the Alliance failed trying. United Future has not prospered electorally from being in government, neither has the Progressive Party.
“Success in opposition – failure in government” was the title of one academic paper I looked at last year. ACT has never really been successful in opposition – but it cannot afford not to be if it forms part of or cooperates with the next government.