Armstrong on Douglas

John Armstrong is puzzled by ACT:

Thursday morning’s press briefing was designed to garner more publicity for Act off the back of Sir Roger’s high-profile return to the party’s inner sanctum.

It sure did that. But it was sloppy tactical thinking on Act’s part.

When the party is on 1%, and it presents a programme as if it is the party on 50%, then no wonder it got short shift. It would be like Jim Anderton demanding that the Government abolish the armed forces, increase all benefits by 20%, and hike taxes.

Key was immediately put on the spot. Would he be torn between loyalty to a centre-right ally or preserving his party’s support? It was no contest.

Key was forthright. National would not sell voters down the river by presenting itself as a pragmatic, moderate conservative party before the election only to run an Act-instigated far right agenda in Government afterwards. And no, Sir Roger would not be a member of his Cabinet.

It was a faultless display from the new “decisive” Key – but one once again made on the defensive.

High praise – a faultless display. I’m actually fairly annoyed that the media demanded that what was an incredibly hypothetical question – having Douglas in Cabinet – be ruled out.  As Bill English had said earlier, the party is at 1% (2% in latest Morgan pollI note though) so it is far from certain Douglas would even be an MP.

Act may need Sir Roger’s agenda for re-branding purposes. His ideas are a lot more exciting than Hide’s endless mention of his red-tape cutting Regulatory Responsibility Bill. But there is a consequent risk Sir Roger could overshadow Act’s leader.

I must say as Sir Roger outlined his prescription, I did wonder if he had been given the power to unilaterally set ACT policy.

The other question is how Sir Roger’s broad-brush reforms would square with Hide’s strategy of developing bottom-line positions on just two or three issues from which Act hopes to extract policy concessions from National. The lesson from Thursday is that parties on the same side of the political spectrum are mutually obliged not to do things which end up disadvantaging both.

Exactly. Hide’s strategy is sound – a modest number of bottom-line positions which will give ACT some wins, but not make it look like the tail is wagging the dog. Obviously the more seats a party gains, the more influence they get.

If Act can win three or four seats, it will make it easier for National to form a Government. It is win-win for both parties.

However, Thursday’s behaviour was lose-lose by jeopardising National’s grip on centre-ground voters and in the process Act’s big chance of being in Government.

Act cannot afford to upset National by overplaying its limited hand. Its bargaining power is weak. Hide has to vote with National or feel the wrath of Epsom voters.

If Douglas is seen as the de facto leader or policy setter, and is proposing too radical an agenda, then Epsom voters may get nervous.

NZ First is the obvious candidate. Ignored this week was Winston Peters’ reinforcement of his earlier declaration that NZ First will negotiate first with the party that wins the most seats. He has now added the following: “We will work with the party the voters tell us to.” It is a signal he is willing to enter serious negotiations with National.

It was highly significant. NZ First did not say they will give first priority to the biggest bloc, but the biggest party. So even if Labour/Greens combined get more seats that National, National still gets first negotiation.

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