Act take a big risk

Act have taken a big risk in their selection of Jamie Whyte as Act leader and David Seymour as their candidate for the pivotal Epsom seat.

They have left out experienced politician and campaigner and widely respected good bloke John Boscawen and instead have chosen two virtually unknown political novices.

Act’s situation has been precarious for years, particularly with John Banks now in serious in trouble and indicating he will bow out this year. Ironically Banks gave the stand-out speech when Parliament opened for the year  last week.

Feedback on yesterday’s selection (by the Act board, members don’t take part in the selection) from Act supporters and Epsom voters is mixed. Some are very disappointed by the rejection of Boscawen and say they won’t vote Act now. Others are pleased to see the party redefining itself with fresh faces.

It’s difficult to judge how many voters will be attracted by a more ideological Act as opposed to a politically pragmatic party.

With Boscawen staying out of the party president role and substantially reducing his input of his own money plus his fund raising Act nor only have to get a leader and their key electorate candidate up to speed plus build a party virtually carried by Boscawen over the last year it’s going to be a huge challenge.

Whatever the Act board decided would have been a risk. Choosing a balance of down to earth experience (Boscawen) and renewal (either of the other two) would have been their safest option but they have instead taken a bigger risk going for novices.

We’ll have to wait and see whether the Act camble will pay off or not over the next nine months.

NZ Herald report:

Dr Whyte, aged 48, has recently returned to live in New Zealand from abroad and has only recently become active in the party.

Mr Seymour, aged 30, first stood for Act in 2005 in Mt Albert against former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Last election he stood in Auckland Central.

He has been working for a think-tank in Canada and may well have returned permanently had he not been made candidate for Epsom.

So neither have been embedded in New Zealand politics recently.

Act announcement (by acting president Barbara Astill): ACT Leadership and Epsom Candidacy

The Act Board who presumaby made the decisions:

ACT Leader John Banks
President (John Boscawen) -resigned
Vice President Barbara Astill -acting President
Treasurer Lindsay Fergusson
Auckland North Beth Houlbrooke
Auckland South John Thompson
Waikato/BoP Bonnie Leonard
Central Vacant
Wellington Sashi Meanger
Upper South Gareth Veale
Scenic South Guy McCallum

– as listed on their website

John Boscawen corrects media comments

There has been a mixed reaction to Act’s decision to…

…announce that the person who will stand as the ACT candidate for Epsom is  and the new leader of the ACT Party will be Dr. 

The third candidate John Boscawen will obviously be disappointed. David Farrar at Kiwiblog posted in Whyte and Seymour elected:

One has to pay tribute to John Boscawen who has stood with ACT through thick and thin. It was noble of him to offer himself for the leadership and Epsom, and it is understandable that he is stepping aside.

John Boscawen has commented at Kiwiblog:

David, let me use your blog to correct a few comments in the media.

I am “not cutting my ties with Act”. I have been a continuous member of Act since 1995 and I expect to remain so. Act’s values are my values.

I told the media I fully support the Board’s decision to select Jamie and David and I wish them all the best. I hope they are successful, very successful and no one will be more pleased to be proved wrong than I.

However one of the reasons I stood was because I believed the strategy of a splitting the roles was flawed and risky. I also believed we must never take the Epsom seat for granted and I believed that with my greater profile and former parliamentary and ministerial experience I was the candidate most likely to retain Epsom. And to be recognised by the media as likely to do so as early as possible in the campaign. I also believed that my strategy was the best chance for David and Jamie to get into parliament, and I still do today at 5.20 on February 2nd.

Given however that I had a different view to the one chosen, I told the Board yesterday that I would consider a rejection of my proposal to be a vote of no confidence in me, and that I would have no alternative but to stand down as president. No self respecting person in the same circumstances would do otherwise. It is also only fair to Jamie that he has an opportunity to select a person who could stand for election as president. He needs someone heading the party who he can have full confidence in.

Secondly, I also told the Board that while giving my own money was one issue, asking others to support a strategy I so strongly disagreed with would preclude me from asking others to support the party financially with any credibility and integrity. I have said that I am happy to sit down with both Jamie and Treasurer Lindsay Fergusson and fully brief them on donor relationships

Act leadership meeting

Act is holding their meeting tonight of contenders for leadership and candidacy for the Epsom electorate. John Boscawen, Jamie Whyte and David Seymour are attending.

audrey young@audreyNZH 

Ex Epsom MP and ex mayor Chris Fletcher arrives to chair public meeting for Act leadership rivals, Boscawen & Whyte, in Remuera.


And they’re off.

Both sources:

 John Boscawen says David Garrett paid a huge price for his time at parliament but the 3 strikes law wouldnt have been possible without him.

Under him act will make raising the retirement age a “big issue”

Act’s leadership contender Jamie Whyte: “Act is not a party for rich pricks. We are a party of the people.”

How many are there to listen?

About 150 I’d say.
Yep not many empty seats

Act Epsom hopeful David Seymour (left) says he’d have won already if it were a hair growing contest

Jamie Whyte is now seeking both the Epsom candidacy and Act leadership.

Jamie Whyte says Act’s “wise old heads” have highlighted the risk of splitting the party leadership and Epsom candidate. He’s going for both

After a bit of promise there wasn’t much Twitter feed from the meeting. A related point of interest:


Honoured to be selected as the @NZGreens candidate for Epsom tonight. Reckon we can get at least 17% of the party vote!

Stuff reports ACT hopefuls state their case:

Around 100 people attended the meeting and current ACT leader John Banks shared a pew with former ACT and Labour MP Roger Douglas. 

ACT president and former MP, John Boscawen

…focused on education as the “ticket out of poverty” and his belief in the ACT party sponsored partnership school programme.

“We believe that education should be opened up to the private sector and that taxpayer funding should be contestable. By creating competition in this way, standards will rise,” Boscawen said. 

“If we have an ACT–National coalition government following the next election, you can expect a substantial roll-out of this model,” he said. 

He also said ACT would call for the gradual increase in the age of entitlement to 67.

Jamie Whyte, philosophy lecturer and newspaper columnist…

…campaigned on natural ACT policy: shrinking the size of government and lowering taxes. 

He also believes he is the man to pull the party from political obscurity. 

As a newspaper columnist advocating free market policy, Whyte said he had the credentials to promote the party to the natural 5 -10 per cent of the population that share ACT’s beliefs.

“I think it is because ACT is not selling its message. To me it should be pretty obvious. If I am made the leader of the party I will fix that,” he said.

Quoting former Labour MP Michael Cullen’s reference to ACT as the party for “rich pricks,” Whyte said this was wrong. 

“This is a party that is saying that they want everyone to get the consumer sovereignty that rich pricks enjoy,” he said.

David Seymour, 30, who is running only for the Epsom candidacy…

…has campaigned for ACT, headed its student body and spent years working for conservative think tanks in Canada. 

He was also the most popular with the crowd. 

“If that was a hair growing contest I would be home and hosed,” said Seymour, a tribute to his competitors’ shiny bald heads, to laughter from the crowd. 

And his youth does not mean he is not inexperienced, said Seymour, who spoke of his work with John Banks in formulating the partnership school policy. 

“I am closer to the median age of Epsom, which is 35, than both of these guys, and I am moving closer to it as I speak,” he said, again bringing laughter from the crowd. 

Seymour emphasised ACT’s role in lowering taxes and creating a safer New Zealand. 

All three candidates agreed that Epsom was of huge importance to the make-up of the next government. 

“The Epsom people have played a huge role in the outcome of the last three elections,” said Boscawen. 

Without an ACT MP in Epsom, a Labour-Green coalition was likely, said Whyte. 

“If ACT can’t win in Epsom, policy is likely to move rapidly in the wrong direction,” said Whyte. 

“What things a good local MP do is stand up for the people of their electorate. I believe I could be that MP,” said Seymour, who went to school at Auckland Grammar in Epsom.

The ACT board meets to decide on the leadership on Sunday.

Radio NZ – Boscawen makes mark at meeting.

Former ACT MP John Boscawen appears to be the front-runner for the party leadership after the one and only meeting featuring the leadership candidates.

After the meeting, most party members who attended told Radio New Zealand they would like Mr Boscawen to win.

Public meeting for Act leadership contenders

John Boscawen is organising a public meeting for Act leadership contenders:

7.30 pm Thursday 30 January

Somervell Presbyterian Church, 497 Remuera Road 


I am organising a public meeting this Thursday in the Epsom electorate. Jamie Whyte and David Seymour have been invited

It will be in the Somervell Presbyterian Church, 497 Remuera Road 7.30 pm Thursday 30 January.

I am proposing a similar structure to recent Labour Party leadership meetings where the press can come for speeches, but not questiontime.

David Seymour has advised will speak at the Somervell Church meeting Jan 30. Public meeting and media are welcome for entire event.

David Farrar at Kiwiblog gives his thoughts on Epsom and the ACT Leadership.

Boscawen – Liberal passion with compassion

John Boscawen’s determination, passion compassion are profiled by Andrea Vance – John Boscawen ready to rebuild ACT.  He is capable of saving Act, and that will give National more hope of being able to put together a sensible coalition.

Something interesting that I didn’t know:

And if anyone knows Epsom voters, it is Boscawen. He stood in the electorate in 1996, winning a 22 per cent share of the party vote – still a record for ACT.

The reality of his decision to put himself forward as leader and candidate:

Until a fortnight ago Boscawen was pushing Hide to once again stand as leader, reluctantly offering up himself once Hide, and former president Catherine Isaac, ruled themselves out.

Boscawen accepts the party has lost credibility, and believes a return to ACT’s core libertarian principles will revive its chances. Fresh blood and new ideas are necessary, but he says the party needs to be guided by someone with parliamentary experience.

“I rate both Jamie and David [Seymour] very highly…and had I believed their strategy had the best chance of success I would not return to Parliament.”

If anyone can revive Act it’s Boscawen. And he’s not all hardball business and straight jacket liberalism:

He recognises inequality as one of the buzzwords of the upcoming campaign. His quandary is how turn the so-called “party of rich pricks” into one that appears to care about the poor.

I think that’s one of the key quandaries of our election year. Good to see that Boscawen recognises it. If he can find a good answer to that then Act have a good chance of doing better than just Epsom.

John Boscawen versus everyone else

For Act’s leadership and survival John Boscawen’s respect and experience are invaluable. It’s hard to see a political newbie managing anywhere near as well as he will.

Comments on Kiwiblog in today’s General Debate.

Chuck Bird:

I see John Boscawen has dropped $0.30 on ipredict. Either there are leaks at the ACT Board or Board members are keen to make money off inside knowledge. I think this is a big mistake for ACT. Epsom may vote anyone in on an ACT ticket but if John is not running I doubt if ACT will get a second MP.


Won’t Epsom voters get tired of being denied the choice of voting National?

Don’t they mind party backroomers making their choices for them?

Are they sheep or are they people?

Chuck Bird:

That is quite possible. However, I do not think they would mind near as much with a man with a track record as a Minister. I would think Key would be happy to make Boscawen a minister again but would not be near as likely to do so with an unknown ACT leader.

That’s an important point. Boscawen has the political respect and parliamentary experience to be a minister and the party experience to help Act get established again.

If Act have an MP or MPs with no parliamentary experience they will find it hard enough to get Act’s act together and get up to speed in Parliament and will not be ready to be a fully functioning minister for some time. At best they would get very minor portfolios and associated ministerships, and even that would be a struggle for them.

Boscawen could guide Act back on track and if they get enough party votes to get more MPs he can train others up to take over after the next term.

Boscawen is Act’s best chance of survival

John Boscawen’s decision to stand for leadership of Act and for the Epsom electorate is Act’s best chance of survival. He may also offer John Key and his National government more hope for survival too.

Stuff reports Fresh blood, or a retread for ACT?:

John Boscawen says he is the man to take the party into Parliament come November.

“I’ve given a huge amount of thought to this. I had a relatively successful Parliamentary career for three years.

“I think this is a crucial election for the country (and) a crucial election for the ACT Party.”

This is a reversal for Boscawen, he has told a number of people, including myself, that he had no intention of standing for Parliament. But circumstances can change, obviously they have for Act but the same may be the case for Boscawen.

This signals new hope for Act and it’s constituents.

Boscawen or Colin Craig?
Boscawen or Winston Peters?

There must be a glimmer of hope in this for Key, his coalition options had been looking shaky.

David Farrar sums up common sentiments on Kiwiblog in Boscawen stands for Epsom and Leader:

John is a tireless worker for ACT, and highly respected. He may be seen as not enough of a break from the past, but will be seen as a very safe pair of hands who doesn’t play games.

Boscawen has only put himself forward for leadership and Epsom but his selection should be a no-brainer. Ex-Act MP David Garret agrees.

Big surprise…John was one of the most popular guys in the House…no-one disliked him…and he also was very much a man who stood on his principles…But I thought he had conclusively ruled out standing again…

I wish him all the best in his quest for a Round Two…

But not everyone is on this page. Cactus Kate comments at Kiwiblog:

John is a fabulous guy and great President of the Party however I see no sense at all in his announcement given David Seymour the new face of ACT has obviously been told by powers above to put his name forward for Epsom.

Now it’s a case of oops, you’ve made the commitment to return from overseas and change your life, you have to beat the old guy first and split the party again. Both Seymour and Whyte face this for their respective positions. Bet both are wondering why they bothered returning.

Cactus considered standing for Act last election. I disagree with her on this.

Whyte and Seymour would have a monumental task
a) leading Act
b) succeeding in Epsom
c) setting up in Parliament
d) running a party and an electorate and a Parliamentary office

They may be the potential future of Act, but they would benefit substantially from being patient and learning from the experience and respect of John Boscawen.

Boscawen is Act’s best chance of pulling back from a political precipice. If Whyte and Seymour and others use this as an opportunity to build their own experience and credibility they are far more likely to succeed in the short term, albeit at a lesser level than they might have ambitions for, and they are also more likely to succeed in the long term.

Putting a political novice into a position of saving the party would another huge risk for Act. They first have to survive the next election. They then have to rebuild. I think their best chance of doing this is with Boscawen. Then the younger talent have a much better chance of making a mark.

Politics can be like cheese, good things often take time. Boscawen is mature, and Act needs that right now.

Can Hide save Act?

Now it’s official that John Banks won’t stand again next year Act can be open about seeking someone capable of winning Epsom and rebuilding Act in Parliament.

Inevitably Rodney Hide is one of the first to be touted. He has recent experience in both Epsom and Parliament and would be the person most likely to succeed. If he is willing. Backed by a background John Boscawen he would give Act supporters real hope – and he would also give John Key hope that there was a realistic chance of retaining a right wing partner.

NZ Herald: Rodney Hide’s fans keen for a comeback after Banks’ departure

Former Act leader Rodney Hide is being courted by supporters in the party to make a comeback in Epsom to replace outgoing leader John Banks, the Herald understands.

Several sources told the Herald Mr Hide had been approached recently and urged to consider a return to Act and to national politics.

One insider said Mr Hide would be nominated by Epsom party members whether he liked it or not. Mr Hide did not return calls yesterday.

It would be extremely difficult for a political novice to lead a party, campaign in and win an electorate, and establish themselves in Parliament. Banks succeeded in Epsom but after a decade’s absence and no colleagues to work with he found it very hard in Parliament. It didn’t help that he was not a yellow blooded Actoid.

Rodney Hide is certainly Act’s best hope for survival. If he can’t be persuaded to return to national politics Act will find it very difficult to keep a toe in Parliament’s door. They might find someone else with enough profile and ability to pull off Epsom but that’s only the first step to recovery.

Interestingly on Firstline this morning John Boscawen was asked if he would have another go and he avoided the question, talking around it.

“I made the decision prior to the last election not to seek re-election in 2011, and that wasn’t a decision that I regretted.”

Hide backed by Boscawen would have immediate respect and a decent chance of success.

Followup on Rodney Hide’s “hate” speech

A part of Rodeney Hide’s speech (which had hate references) at the recent ACT conference was prominently covered by 3 News – 3 News report and Video. This prompted strong criticism. This in turn received strong denials he had said anything wrong, and there was counter criticism that 3 News had deliberately edited to present an unfair impression.

Apart from blog comment I didn’t see any other media pick up on this story except for being included in a Bryce Edwards Politics Daily roundup (published online by NZ Herald and NBR) and on Edwards’ Liberation blog.

On Kiwiblog David Garrett strongly defended Hide and strongly criticised my coverage – see David Garrett’s version of Hide’s ‘hate’ remarks.

I asked Patrick Gower to comment but he didn’t reply.

The only response I have seen from the ACT party is a tweet response to me:

ACT Party@actparty

@PeteDGeorge Those are not ACT’s views.

I’ve since talked about all this with several ACT party members who were at conference, including with party president John Boscawen so have a better idea of what happened and what was intended.

Hide’s contentious comment was:

They think you must have horns, and hate the poor, and hate the Maori, and hate the unions – well, that’s true.

It has been claimed by some that when you listen to pauses and speech emphasis Hide was only referring to hating the unions with his “well, that’s true”. Boscawen told me that if you heard the whole speech and if you know Hide and how he thinks then it was definitely just hating the unions, not Maori or the poor.

I won’t go in to whether it’s a good thing or not for ACT to be reinforcing perceptions that they hate unions.

Whatever Hide intended and whatever his fellow party members and supporters thought he meant, the way it sounded on 3 News I and others I know cringed at the remark, getting a different message of wider hate from it.

And the MC at the conference, Jim Hopkins, also picked it up as meaning wider hate:

There was a little moment there where you said “Everybody knows Act hates the poor, hates Maori, hates everybody, well it’s true.”

I just wonder whether you’d like to come back and revisit that.

So obviously it was easy to hear Hide’s statement this way. His response to that invitation to revisit and clarify was an emphatic “No!”

Some saw this as Hide agreeing with Hopkins’ interpretation and not needing further comment.

Some saw it as Hide seeing no reason to qualify his remark that he and ACT only hated the unions.

It has been conceded that if Hide had clarified what he had meant at that stage it would have probably been the end of it – if he only meant “hate the unions”.

Was Hide being deliberately ambiguous? Was he trying to appeal to an audience that would like the multiple hate targets, while giving him room to argue that was not really what he meant? Was he dog-whistling?

Was Hide being deliberately provocative, perhaps to attract media attention?

Someone who was at the conference wondered if Hide was being deliberately mischievous, knowing as soon as Hide said it that it was likely it could attract the media spotlight.  And they said that Hide would have been well aware of the risks and possible consequences of saying something like that.

Or was it careless use of language and sloppy or arrogant dismissal of an opportunity to clarify?

Only Hide can answer these questions.

Jim Hopkins interpreted wider hate in the comment, hating the poor and hating Maori. So did Patrick Gower. So did I when I watched it, as did others.

If left unaddressed this is fodder for political opponents – for some this merely reinforces what they think anyway, that ACT people hate the poor (yes, I hear that claim) and they hate Maori.

Damage to ACT has been done, but at least your true intent will be on record, this may limit future damage. If this is left as it is then there’s a good chance it will be brought up again to try and discredit ACT – for example it could be used to try and torpedo ACT in the next election campaign.

If an official version of intended meaning is also out there it will at least partly balance what has already been broadcast if anyone googles it, and it will make any future defence more credible as it has already been stated.

Rodney, I just wonder whether you’d like to come back and revisit this.

Act II, John Boscawen

After being an observer at the ACT Scenic South Regional Conference I’ve posted my impressions of one of the John Bs – see Act I, John Banks.

The other ACT John B is party president John Boscawen. He also gave a speech at the conference, and I was able to have a good chat with him afterwards.

Boscawen was one of the five ACT MPS last term. He decided not to stand again in 2011 for genuine family reasons.He had a reputation of being down to earth, a hard worker, reliable – but was described as being not so good in the arts of communication.

I thought he gave a good speech. He wasn’t as animated or funny as the other John B. He didn’t drop any media H bombs like Rodney Hide. But he was clear and informative, giving a good explanation of his aims and priorities, and where he hoped to help take the ACT party.

My impression is that Boscawen is a very capable speaker, he’s just not flashy, nor is he an attention seeker.

I’ll deal more with his speech in later posts.

Afterwards he had a long talk to myself and another non-ACT observer, Hamish, who is a Young Nat. I was interested in asking, listening and learning what I could about Boscawen and what he was doing.

And Boscawen was interested in asking, listening and learning about what I was doing – unusual in my experience with politicians (although I have had a similar long talk and listen with the United Future president).

Boscawen has taken on the job of ACT president and has committed himself to working full time for the party up to next year’s election, doing what he can to help ACT return to Parliament, hopefully with several more MPs. He is financially self supporting so is able to put substantial time and effort into this.

He sounds very determined and clear about the required tasks. The Banks John has a heavy workload being an electorate MP, party leader (something he said he hadn’t aspired to be), and Government Minister. He returned to Parliament in 2011 after an absence of many years and with a gutted party in disarray. Then last year he had to weather substantial targeted attacks by opposition parties.

So the role of the Boscawen John is very important. He has the time and determination to rebuild support for his party. And he’s not shy about recruiting new party members, he asked both Hamish and I what it would take to get us to join ACT. He couldn’t afford me.

ACT has had a very difficult few years, with MP misteps, revelations, party takeovers and cups of toxic tea.

But despite this with John Banks they survived. And he will probably ensure they will survive until the next election – unless Kim Dotcom is holding a bomb in reserve. It is up to Banks to keep the party running.

John Boscawen is in a position to rebuild the party and regain support. He seems a genuine nice guy, but very focussed and determined, has lived through and learnt from past mistakes, and has success in his background.

ACT have John Banks to thank for having hung on. If they are to become a significant force in New Zealand politics they will have a lot to thank John Boscawen for.

I’m not and have never been an ACT supporter, but I do want to see a strong presence of a range of large and small parties in Parliament, including ACT. Diversity strengthens democracy.

I see hope for ACT, and for Parliament, in the two John Bs. And that must be a hope shared by National, for different reasons.