ACT an Endangered Species - Labour's New Realities
By Lou Garvey
Lou Garvey is a Wellington freelance writer who specialises in Asia-Pacific affairs and foreign policy issues
Acceptance by ACT that its days as a significant player at a Parliamentary level are drawing to a close might be assumed from the attention it is now paying to involvement in local authority politics.
In spite of Richard Prebble’s assertions that he remains optimistic about his party’s future, despite it dropping to just one percent in the latest One News Colmar Brunton poll, there is evidence that trends are against him.
Don Brash’s elevation to the National Party leadership satisfies the desires of most ACT supporters for a more rigorous approach to the country’s economic leadership. The fact that Brash has John Key, a former international merchant banker, as his finance assistant adds to National’s appeal in this area.
Secondly most ACT supporters love winners, which is what Brash is looking like in the wake of the Orewa speech and the latest poll. No matter that Labour may well redeem some of its lost support as it moves to counter the National surge, Brash has now given this group grounds for more hope of electoral success than they’ve had for some years.
No less significantly National now has the opportunity to put a stake through the heart of ACT by taking advantage of the newfound interest mainstream media is taking in National policies – an interest encouraged by Labour’s headmistress herself! This is helpful to National because until the Orewa speech any policy lines it circulated fell on deaf media ears, naturally enough because of its low poll ratings and perceptions that its prospects of winning office were virtually zilch.
A fourth factor is money flows. National’s newfound popularity has energised the business sector behind it, just as it has invigorated the party’s membership and former National supporters who drifted away during the Shipley-English years to ACT, United and NZ First.
That of course is bad news for ACT. And it may well be bad news for Labour. This is because it is a fair bet that much of the polling support achieved by National (Brash) came from either natural Labour voters (who through their employment are often close to issues posed by Government Maori assistance programmes) or middle New Zealanders who had swung behind Labour as a more organised and relevant party than National.
The CTU and union movement generally will no doubt recognise that while it is pressing for more legislative measures to shore up its labour market recruitment, such measures might do little to help the political wing of Labour rescue itself from its current position.
Thus Labour may find that while corporate funding dries up it is faced with a dilemma of proceeding with union demanded legislative measures to secure its financial base, while knowing that this further risks its polling position. The union movement, however, is hardly likely to curb its demands when it knows that the time is approaching for a last chance grasp at cementing gains it has made during the party’s years in office.
There are signs that these realities are appreciated within ACT. Why else would it seek to seize control of a Citizens and Ratepayers local body base in Auckland’s Hobson community? Why else would it start to develop a local body campaigning group in Manukau City at a time when the successful career of Sir Barry Curtis as Mayor appears to be drawing to an end?
It may be a pointer to the fact that ACT sees its future as a ginger group in local body politics, where the governance and prudent financial management issues it first rose to prominence over at a national level are becoming more relevant than ever before.
If Don Brash, a personality it desperately wanted to attract into its ranks, is now “doing the job”, albeit under a different banner and with a less rigid stance, what future is there at national level politics for ACT? The Backbone Club might well have more relevance to voters in stiffening spending inclinations at local body levels!