If I were ACT’s campaign strategist

Written By: - Date published: 2:28 pm, March 19th, 2008 - 27 comments
Categories: act, election 2008 - Tags: ,

What strategy should the parties pursue ahead of the election? This series of posts will attempt to answer that question, party by party, starting with ACT.

ACT must gain support from hard-right voters who are dissatisfied with John Key’s wishy-washy centrism. They’ve made a good start of it by getting back Roger Douglas, the Dalai Lama of big business. He must be the centre-figure of their campaign. ACT needs to lay claim to the true right, without going so extreme that National has to disown them, by articulating a series of classic right-wing policies including: tax cuts, spending cuts, asset sales, and deregulation. Spending cuts, in particular, would put clear space between them and National.

This won’t win the centrist vote. It won’t bring ACT support from the swing voters or Labour. But it will bring in the financiers, libertarians, businessmen, and the young, wannabe tory-boys in their $500 suits that don’t fit them. That’s always been ACT’s base. They were lost to Brash but now they don’t see Key delivering much in the way of the policies they want. They are ripe for the picking by a de facto Douglas-led ACT.

If ACT can pick up 5% of the vote from the hard-right, they will be in prime position to demand Cabinet posts in a National-led government, perhaps even Finance for Douglas. Then, ACT will once again be able to say, to quote an ACT supporter in the documentary Campaign after they won Wellington Central in 1996: ‘this must be how the Nazis felt at Nuremberg’.

[Update: I stand corrected, ACT’s campaign strategy is treating with soon-to-be banned narcotics]

27 comments on “If I were ACT’s campaign strategist”

  1. BeShakey 1

    Good idea to have a series of posts on campaign tactics (although I’m a politics geek so I would say that). I generally agree with you, my only difference being that I don’t think ACT should go too hard right. Given Nationals lurch to the centre ACT have been left with an enormous expanse of the right that they could occupy. I’d reccommend they adopt policies that show a significant gap between them and National, but not too far. If they really want to get Cabinet posts, it’d be much easier for National to provide them if ACT hasn’t scared off voters and other support parties by going further right than necessary.

  2. Steve Pierson 2

    true. but they have to give voters a reason to move back to the from the Nats in the first place. that would require a careful balancing act (hehe). They can get plenty of votes by going as hard right as they want, but you’re right, they can’t put themselves too far out there or National will have to disown them. So tax cuts, spending cuts etc – but in moderation, with national afraid to talk about spending cuts, that in particular would be futile ground.

    Ain’t easy to talk about subtlities in a 250 word post, especially when I just had to save room for that Nuremberg quote.

  3. gobsmacked 3

    If they want a National-ACT government, they have to take votes off National without shrinking the overall right vote.

    Rogernomics won’t do that. It will scare more voters than it attracts. So I think you’ll see ACT making social conservative – or populist – noises as well (e.g. when Hide was promoting the “anti-smacking” referendum). The real social conservatives (or so-called Christian Right) are too divided, ineffective, and don’t have an electorate MP. But they aren’t happy with Key either. It must be very tempting for ACT to go for those available votes, even if it annoys some of their “neo-liberal” activists.

  4. Steve Pierson 4

    can’t see how ACT can win the Christian Right though, not with social policies at least. that said, a lot of rightwing businessmen are active Christians too (appearantly they never got to the bit about the rich man, the camel, and the needle)

  5. mike 5

    JK on Breakfast this morning said there was no way any deals would be done and put the call out “if people want a change of Govt they need to vote National”
    And I think right voters will tow this line. Rodney will get Epson but that will probably be it.

  6. Phil 6

    I severely doubt that the proportion of businessmen who are active Christians is any different from the proportion of any other career (with the exception of something like priests of rabbi’s).

  7. Phil 7

    By the way, not meaning to get all theological on you, but… your understanding of the camel/needle parable is woefully off track.

  8. Steve Pierson 8

    mike. that’s not what Key said – he refused to be drawn on whether he would prefer a deal with ACT or the Maori party but he didn’t rule out deals, far from it.

    he said “if we have to put to, together a deal afterwards, whether it’s with United or ACT or the Maori Party or anybody else, New Zealand First, then we’ll just deal with that situation post the election”
    you can check out the video here: http://tvnz.co.nz/view/news_minisite_index_skin/news_breakfast_group

    He said he wouldn’t get into ranking National’s order of preference for deals with parties. it’s not surprising he wouldn’t be drawn on such a sensitive topic, but any fool knows the Nats would prefer to work with ACT than work with the Maori party.

  9. gobsmacked 9

    I’m not suggesting ACT are going to be Bible-bashers – just that they’ll turn up the populist rhetoric (“PC gone mad”). Soon Key will have to take a position on the referendum, which will probably be held on election day. If Key sticks to his compromise with Clark/Bradford, there is fertile ground for a party campaigning against. Especially when they start from such a low base, where a couple of percentage points looks like gold.

  10. GS – after hearing Douglas try to avoid a direct answer over asset sales on morning report I’m inclined to agree with you. But it makes no sense given Douglas was always the driver for Act to be the party of pure neo-liberalism.

  11. Matthew Pilott 11

    The interesting point for me is definitely related to ACT’s positioning. What Steve is aadvocating is a swing to the hard-right. This was then criticised by gobsmacked, as he suggested that it would turn voters off.

    Something struck me – and not for the first time – that party positioning these days seems to be more about attracting the largest bloc of voters, by misrepresenting policy/ideology/agenda where necessary. Not just ACT, mind.

    And we wonder why participation throughout the western world is in a continual decline. Compulsory civics lessons anyone? (not to mention some better journalism critiquing this practice, for what it worth?)

    Sorry, quite off topic- but you do wonder why a party gets to choose what it represents. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

  12. Steve Pierson 12

    I think populism is what got ACT into trouble in the first place, it turned off it’s base, and no party survives without the manpower (or the rights’ case, money) that the base brings.

  13. Pablo 13

    Comparing victory to Triumph of the Will. Talk about a tasteless comment.

    Act have to balance their attack finely indeed. Like Gobsmacked says, Act can’t be too Rightish, cos they don’t want to scare away those centrists who might be attracted to Key’s compassionate conservatism, they need to grow the vote for the Right as a whole, while still getting themselves over the 5% threshhold. If the Nats only get around 42%-45% of the vote (a damned good result if you ask me), they’ll need Act to bring more than Rod, Rog & Heather to the party, or they’ll find themselves marginalised like the Greens were in 2005.

  14. Steve Pierson 14

    phil. what is the correct interpretation? the obvious interpretation – worldy wealth/greed is an emcumbance to being saved – is what they have here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_a_needle

    captcha: crept messages – john key on auckland airport?

  15. Scribe 15


    Don’t worry, you’re not the first person to say rich people are going to hell. A lot trotted out that line during the discussion of the Catholic bishop’s social sins last week. It’ll happen again, too.

    It’s what one does with his/her wealth that matters. Holding on to it and walking past the poor on the street and ignoring them (figuratively or literally) is what causes problems, theologically speaking.

  16. Steve Pierson 16

    scribe. I don’t believe rich people are going to hell because it doesn’t exist. it was just a comment on the appearant contradiction that a lot of hardnosed businessmen are also active church-goers when christian teaching is not exactly pro-wealthy..

  17. Dean 17

    “scribe. I don’t believe rich people are going to hell because it doesn’t exist. it was just a comment on the appearant contradiction that a lot of hardnosed businessmen are also active church-goers when christian teaching is not exactly pro-wealthy..”

    Define “a lot”. Let’s see your statistics, and let’s hope your interpretation of them is better than the OECD tax rate chart you posted a week ago, which even Rob queried you about, but which you didn’t seem to be able to find the fortitude to defend.

  18. You know, I’d hope that the political strategy of a party would be a little more sophisticated than the level that gets addressed here.

    That hope, mind you, might be a vain one.


  19. Matthew Pilott 19

    TDS, I’m afraid you’ve been let down – their strategy is to hand out recreational drugs.

    Anyway, if you ever feel like making an intelligent or relevant post, this would be the time.

    I’ll admit, the possibility is a slim one.

  20. Scribe 20


    Are you a Christian yourself? (Hope that’s not too personal a question.)

    If so, when did you decide hell doesn’t exist? And who (priest/preacher/friend etc), if anyone, helped you come to that decision?

    If you’re not a Christian, how confident are you that you’ve got a correct understanding of the Christian teaching on wealth?

    captcha: Jackson presided (The Rev. Jesse Jackson?)

  21. Steve Pierson 21

    No I’m not. But i’m not trying to have a crack at it, I geniunely understood that to be Christian theology on wealth – the whole camel and needle thing , if i’ve got it wrong, enlighten me.

  22. Scribe 22


    And I wasn’t trying to have a crack either.

    Like many Scripture passages, there are multiple interpretations. The prevailing understanding of the rich man/camel/needle metaphor is that one who is rich and does nothing with the accompanying blessings that come with being rich by using some — not necessarily ALL — of his money to help the poor, then he is failing to live out Christian ideals.

    If the Scripture was read with the interpretation which you put forward, and you’re certainly not alone, then a lot of Christian ministers would be in trouble. A lot of them (evangelicals especially) are quite wealthy, but they (are called to) use that to help others.

    I could touch on your understanding of hell, and how failing to acknowledge hell causes problems for society, but I don’t want to hijack your blog and turn it into a theological forum. There are other blogs to discuss such matters.

  23. gobsmacked 23

    And now ACT’s strategy is revealed: make John Key squirm …


    More please, Roger (and keep saying “Cabinet”, loudly and often).

  24. r0b 24

    And now ACT’s strategy is revealed

    Yee hah! Go Roger! Who let the dogs out!….

  25. gobsmacked 25

    Well, if you believe Barry Soper on Newstalk ZB, Key has just told ACT they are now last cab off the rank (to coin a phrase).

    This could be quite a show, not least on the right-wing froth-blogs. Popcorn, anyone?

  26. gobsmacked 26

    And here we are (by Colin Espiner, Press/Stuff):

    “National leader John Key has ruled out Sir Roger Douglas receiving a Cabinet post in any government led by him.

    Key told reporters this afternoon that the “radical right-wing agenda” outlined by Sir Roger at a press conference earlier today ruled him out of a position around the Cabinet table.

    He also said National would not be able to work with ACT, considered its most likely coalition partner, if the party pursued the philosophies of Sir Roger.

    “If ACT are hell bent on following a radical right-wing agenda and won’t fit in with a moderate pragmatic agenda then we can’t work with them. They’re ruling themselves out if that’s what they are doing,” Key said.

    *refills popcorn*

  27. gobsmacked 27

    Oh, this is just too funny for words.

    Lunctime – Colin Espiner asks: Will Key rule out Roger?

    Afternoon – Righties respond: Of course not! Roger rules! Roger will save us! Sell, sell, sell!

    Teatime – Key rules out Roger.


    *finishes popcorn, moves on to champagne*

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