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David Miller: Is Rodney To Late To Save ACT?

David G. Miller Online

Is Rodney to Late to Save ACT?

The election of Rodney Hide as ACT leader certainly came as a surprise to many, but now the contest is over the question is whether he can save his party from electoral oblivion. Mr. Hyde is an interesting choice as leader, given his perk-busting, abrasive style of politicking, but the majority of ACT members believe that this style will certainly raise more noise than that of his more conservative rivals, such as Stephen Franks or Ken Shirley. However, will this noise translate into votes?

Mr. Hyde may be able to raise noise but he assumes his position with the shadow of Sir Roger Douglas looming large. Sir Roger did not endorse Mr. Hyde’s candidacy and perhaps he would have been better served remaining aloof from the leadership contest and casting his vote in silence without giving the impression of a party divided. Nevertheless, the party will seek to repair any division or at least mask them and Mr. Hyde is certainly the most effective of the ACT MP’s of keeping the party’s profile raised in the media. Yet the electorate could easily reject the ‘rabble-rouser’ image and he can no longer seek refuge as being just another opposition member of the House where he can argue and plug holes in the Government’s policy. Now he must determine policy of his own and he must convince voters that he is a stable leader, capable of developing and implementing his party’s manifesto and inspiring trust as a potential coalition partner for National. In other words, Mr. Hyde needs to drastically and quickly change his public image and methods of presentation.

Not only does Mr. Hyde himself need to alter his image but also his party must tailor its election campaign to demonstrate that it is not a single-issue party. ACT needs to promote other issues instead of trying to hammer home its belief that taxes should be lowered. They need to outline their policies outside of their monetarist agenda and explain their social issues as well. Given the current political climate and profile of issues such as race and the country’s social problems, economic policies do not sell well and this is Dr. Brash’s problem when he shifts away from discussing race-relations.

National will campaign heavily on matters to do with the economy and New Zealand’s need to be part of liberalised global trade. This will inevitably include their own promotion of the lowering of the tax rate and Dr. Brash has mooted this in his speeches. It will also impact adversely on ACT. If Labour, New Zealand First or United Future can make gains in the centre of the political spectrum then National will have to move further right. Their problem was that that they have failed to do this since losing office back in 1999 and this cost them a sizable portion of their support base. Ironically, ACT’s fortunes on the political right depend much on what happens in the centre.

With National maintaining its momentum at the polls, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that ACT will survive the next election. They do not appeal to a wide enough cross section of voters and their policies thus far have appealed to only a narrow band of voters or disgruntled National supporters. Even if Mr. Hyde can raise the party’s profile, its hope is that National throw it a lifeline such as the Epsom seat or induce its own supporters to cast their party votes for ACT as their potential coalition partner. Dr. Brash will not do either of these. It is likely that while he may endorse ACT as a potential governing partner, their place at his Cabinet table will only be granted after they stand on their own feet. Even with a new, high profile leader ACT needs National. National does not need ACT.

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