Armstrong on ACT

John Armstrong looks at ACT:

As one longstanding party insider attending Act’s weekend conference put it, the party is no longer in need of life support. It is no longer even in intensive care. It is somewhere short of full recovery, however.

Though the two-day conference justifiably celebrated the party’s resurrection from near oblivion in 2005 to holding ministerial portfolios in 2009, there was no smugness.

Instead, the conference exhibited a healthy realism, knowing Act’s condition could easily slip backwards again just as quickly.

Sadly the track record of support parties is not good.

The sternest warning came from the party’s deputy leader, Heather Roy, who said as gratifying as it was to have made such progress, the party’s biggest challenges had just begun.

“We must re-establish our political relevance every single day,” she told Saturday’s session, referring to the party’s need to constantly lift its profile and maintain its separate identity and not be suffocated by National in the present governing arrangement.

Indeed. And John Key’s tilts to the centre give ACT lots of room on the right. Rodney’s portfolios also give ACT a real opportunity to score some wins.

Act’s entry into what Hide describes as the “death zone” consequently saw the conference focus heavily on political marketing and branding, with an analysis of post-election candidate interviews and voter focus-group research presented by Auckland University academic Jennifer Lees-Marshment.

Hmmn I’d like to see that presentation.

She emphasised the party needed to switch to “permanent campaign mode” now rather than waiting until election year.

Act needed a strategy that included effective communication of what it was delivering policy-wise and emphasising those achievements had been gained only because Act was part of the governing arrangement.

She said the party should revisit its pre-election 20-point plan and possibly launch an updated version. The party needed to be open and honest when it was unable to deliver on expectations.


There was talk of Act softening its image to broaden its appeal to women and younger voters, and appealing to voters’ hearts as much as their heads.

In short, Act needed to display “emotional appeal”, rather than just cold hard logic, to win over voters.

In essence, it was suggested Act should be somewhat akin to the Greens, such that people could empathise with the sentiment expressed through the party’s brand even if they did not agree with all of its policies.

Yeah the Greens do this well – most support is for their brand, not their policies. I mean after all surely 7% of NZers don’t really want to ban 86 different things on the Greens ban list.

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