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The rise and rise of David Seymour’s ACT

Written By: - Date published: 2:28 pm, August 25th, 2021 - 35 comments
Categories: act, david seymour, labour, national, polls - Tags:

I thought David Seymour was the  most interesting speaker at the Victoria University post-election conference at Parliament last year. Two things stood out for me in  his presentation following ACT’s election gains. He opened by offering lengthy and effusive praise to his researcher, then clearly stated his objective to supplant National as the leading party on the right. He’s on track for that, as current media attention shows.

I’ve had a long interest in political research dating back to the late 1980’s when New Zealand Labour started its relationship with Utting Market Research now continuing without John Utting as UMR so my ears pricked up when Seymour praised his researchers so effusively. I don’t know who they are but they do seem to know what they are doing.

What was interesting about the ACT campaign was that it surprised by putting  together a coalition of seemingly unrelated cohorts; the pro-gun lobby and those pro end-of-life choice being just two examples. These groups do not fit into any conventional political paradigm or spectrum, but they are characterised by varying levels of commitment to their cause and receptiveness to the idea of freedom of choice. This indicates that ACT’s research is leading to an organising strategy based on real cohorts not an advertising strategy based on constructed cohorts, which means it is likely to be effective in New Zealand’s advertising-constrained political communication environment.

The next cohort in ACT’s sights would appear to be discontented farmers. Seymour is a clever communicator who knows how to press the right buttons. If he makes real headway among farmers he achieves two things at once, bringing on board a significant cohort and at the same time severely weakening National.

And ACT is a genuine right-wing party. I don’t think Labour and the Left should rejoice too much at the travails of National. It was founded in the 1930s as an anti-Labour coalition of the corporate elite and the country, and could well splinter. But we should be careful what we might wish for.

I also think it would be good for Labour particularly to have a good look at its own cohorts, implied and explicit, to test how strong the connections still are in the 21st century. Also its communication strategy; talking too much about being focused on the middle ground  risks danger. By definition it lacks definition, which is not a good basis for commitment.

35 comments on “The rise and rise of David Seymour’s ACT ”

  1. Ad 1

    Agree, especially with your last paragraph.

    Seymour feels very much like an Anderton in his ability to bring disparate weirdo sets together into a whole, and doing the same job politically against National.

    • I Feel Love 1.1

      Until they confront him in real life, then he backs away from the more nuttiest of his supporters. He's an opportunist, nothing more, nothing less, no less successful, but hollow.

  2. UncookedSelachimorpha 2

    A post-National future…

    ACT – Right

    Labour – Centre Right

    Greens – Left


    • RobbieWgtn 2.1

      Act is only considered Right (actually pretty moderate centrist compared with eg USA & Oz) is because of the Overton Window: Labour & Nationals decades of Left social re-engineering compromises with their electoral partners under MMP instead of remaining true to a few principles….any principles

      "It's just a step to the left and a jump to the right…"

  3. Anker 3
    • Who would have thought that the dorky looking guy on DWTS would get so far.
    • having recently read Helen Kelly’s biography I think we need a working people’s party, like Labour originally was. Highly recommend the book
    • roblogic 3.1

      100% Anker, It is profoundly immoral that houses are still earning more than workers, and are taxed much less, in the second term of a supposedly "labour" government

    • Gosman 3.2

      Didn't NZ have a working people's party in Mana? Also in what way would this working people's party differ from The Greens? They seem to have very left wing policy ideals that I presume would fit with any from a working people's party.

      • DukeEll 3.2.1

        There are people who work with their hands and people who work for the government. the latter sincerely hope the twain never meet

      • weka 3.2.2

        Wrong cultural fit. Yes, the GP have the most progressive lw policies, including pro-worker ones, but politics is also about what people are attracted to and drawn to emotionally and culturally. Saving the planet isn't a big draw for working class people whose values are based in a different milieu.

      • Chris 3.2.3

        "What was interesting about the ACT campaign was that it surprised by putting together a coalition of seemingly unrelated cohorts; the pro-gun lobby and those pro end-of-life choice being just two examples. These groups do not fit into any conventional political paradigm or spectrum…"

        I would say these groups fit firmly within Act's libertarian bent, traditionally anyway, albeit now when it suits them.

    • One of the few good things about being in an opposition party is that you never have to follow through on your promises. Just snipe at the government from the sidelines.

      Leading the nation in a health crisis, making all the decisions and being accountable for them is an entirely different matter.

  4. KJT 4

    Just like Dunne's party. Once the public get a good view of the real degree of fruitcakery ACT represent, they will go back to holding their voters meetings in a telephone box.

    • Cricklewood 4.1

      Not if they hold onto the right wing rump and force the Nats further into the centre…

      Makes for some interesting possibilities then…

  5. coreyjhumm 5

    Act are really interesting in that in a lot of ways they are just the fourth labour and national govts.

    A lot of former lefty's are going to act over the guns issue but most importantly hate speech which has been handled appallingly badly by the minister and the pm in a coms sense.

    Act have a really really good mental health policy. Creating an entirely new department that dishes out the funding. I like it

    I wouldn't vote act but the way the left is handling the rise of act is ill thought out , trying to shut them down and calling them facsists is turning them into martyrs because it's wrong… They aren't they are just bog standard neoliberals with a libertarian streak.

    Seymour is probably the most successful mp in nz he was mocked laughed at had little funding and multiplied his caucus by 10 and his only rising. He picks his battles and only a fool would seriously believe this young neoliberal dweeb is a bigot.

    How do we beat him? We debate him. Stop acting like he's some big scary new thing and expose him for what he is a neoliberal. An undiluted neoliberal. If the left can't crush Seymour in a debate we have issues

    • Gosman 5.1

      David Seymour has been in many debates and has generally held his own or come out ahead. I think you are going to be sorely disappointed if you think ACT will be crushed via this manner.

  6. McFlock 6

    "Cohorts" seems to be "market segmentation" by another name. The trouble with applying that to politics is that there's only so far one can go before one cohort alienates another – e.g. juco nats alienating their young nats with some social conservative votes.

    And, as KJT points out, rapid increases in MP numbers increases the chances of one or two of them failing to maintain a reasonable and approachable face. To give them credit, they've done well so far.

    • Stuart Munro 6.1

      Cohorts are, strictly speaking age classes, as both Sparta and Rome organised troop formations by age. Population biologists grabbed the term and used it properly, but marketers, no doubt due to the lack of Linnaean Latin, use it improperly.

      A cohort is a group of organisms of the same species that are born during the same year.

  7. Stephen D 7

    When we drill down into ACT’s caucus, what have we got.

    David Seymour, the most hypocritical parliamentarian. All for deregulation, except for the bunch of NIMBYs in his electorate.

    Brook van Velden, who seems quite reasonable.

    Crazy gun lady.

    Some farmer??

    And the rest?

    At some point they will come under scrutiny. Then it will be interesting to see how disciplined they are.

    • Janice 7.1

      You forgot about the Scottish man.

      • Gosman 7.1.1

        There is no Scottish man in the ACT party caucus. Did you mean Damien Smith? He's from Northern Ireland originally.

    • Gosman 7.2

      They have been incredibly disciplined so far. Normally around this time is when any loose cannon in a caucus becomes known.

      Interesting you think Nicole Mckee is a "crazy gun lady". On what basis do you make that claim? Her views on gun reform are a World away from the NRA's free for all and she was a firearm safety trainer. She does not advocate firearms be used for personal protection and in fact has come out against having the Police armed all the time.

  8. Patricia Bremner 8

    Like Bob Jones Jim Anderton and Winston Peters, they come, and on the loss of their Leader, they go. They are at most a disaffected 20%, who sway the vote mainly towards the right. David is clever and able to present a public image, but where are their policies? I don't mean slogans and sticking plasters for each perceived problem.

    They are all for "Freedom" Ok look where that got other countries, who yabbered about freedom while their lives were decimated by covid. So how is that freedom looking now? In Britain 100 deaths a day and over 30 000 catching covid… some freedom. Act’s lauded Mental health scheme would get swamped!!

    That is the difference between big talkers and do-ers, and don't mix up which is what!!

    • Gosman 8.1

      David Seymour, unlike the three other leaders you mention, is preparing the ground for when he steps down from Parliament. You can see this in how Brooke van Velden is being pushed forward more in relation to policy announcements etc.

  9. Michael 9

    People support Labour because it has done a good job fighting Covid. Not a perfect job, and it can't afford to admit its mistakes in hostile political environment, but a lot better than the political Right, which would have vaccinated the rich and powerful, then let 'er rip. Apart from that (not downplaying the scale of Labour's achievement), it's results seem threadbare. It hasn't built nearly enough social and community housing to take the pressure off low-income earners. Mental health remains as cruel and dysfunctional as ever. Welfare and ACC, ditto. Yes, there were increases in main benefit rates: immediately clawed back by cuts to supplementaries; any increase was switftly gobbled up by landlords and power companies (unintentional?). In short: this govt has a problem getting things done.

  10. Stuart Munro 10

    The challenge that lies before ACT is to use its current numbers to 'nut out' (a job for which they seem singularly well-equipped) a broad coherent set of policies and positions…

    Sounds tough, but:

    …that is more rational and coherent than National's. A walk in the park really, until one sees who they have to do the job – rofl.

  11. Gosman 11

    What fruitcakery does ACT represent? Is it the take on free speech or the housing policy or perhaps the mental health policy you are meaning.

    • vto 11.1

      It represents the fruitcakery which think that society's policies should be based around individualism rather than socialism.

      Humans are nothing but social. We come together to do anything and everything. Absolutely everything.

      Humans achieve nothing individually, absolutely nothing

      Individuals end up dying, dead.

      Yet there is an entire political party set up around basing everything on the individual – go figure.

      • Gosman 11.1.1

        Are you claiming anything that does not support a collective and statist approach to solving societal issues is "fruitcakery"? That means a large number of people are most likely supportive of such ideas.

  12. barry 12

    I am always surprised that the government hasn't removed zoning from the Epsom-based grammar schools and put on buses from South Auckland. That is what Epsom people voted for when they voted ACT.

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