The Party won just 0.5% of the vote last election and has been doing some soul-searching on how to win more support; it’s leader, David Seymour, says the end of the ‘English era’ spells good news for ACT

By Jason Walls

The ACT Party is in the midst of a refresh after its disappointing result in last year’s election.

In a recent email to its members, leader David Seymour reflects on what he calls a “poor election result,” tossing around ideas on how to refocus the party.

Front and centre of the party’s strategy to bounce back is utilising the departure of outgoing National leader Bill English.

“The end of the [John] Key-English era is probably good news for ACT’s chances,” the email says.

Speaking to Interest.co.nz, Seymour says his party has been competing for votes with “probably the most effective duo of conservative centre-right politicians in the Anglosphere for the last 10 years.”

The departure of English means a new leadership team will be selected on Tuesday.

It’s unlikely whomever the National Caucus selects will be as popular as Key and English, or an English Paula Bennett team, Seymour says, adding that this will create an opportunity for ACT to pick up some of the support which will inevitably leave National.

Seymour says the opportunity for his right-wing party is huge – especially given the National Party is moving further to the left.

He says National’s response to the Government’s $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund – where instead of challenging the spending, English said many of the projects were rebrands of the previous Government’s policies – is a perfect example of the party moving further left.

Even with the departure of English, continuing the way the party did before the last election would be problematic.    

ACT won just 0.5% of the vote, bringing just Seymour – who won the Auckland seat of Epsom – into Parliament.

Seymour says ACT’s scope of policies has been too wide, which has made it difficult for people to understand what the party stands for.

In the email to members, it lists a smorgasbord of various policies and initiatives – including the three strikes rule for repeat offenders, the End of Life Choice Bill, partnership schools and limits on welfare – which ACT has pursued recently.

“ACT has taken so many different positions over the last 20 years that we have kind of accumulated like barnacles on a ship.”

But he won’t say which policies will be cut, only that he is in the process of talking to ACT members about that at the moment.

It’s a similar story when it comes to the policies ACT will be focusing on. “All I can say at this point is it’s about Government doing less stuff and business and community doing more stuff,” Seymour says.

A possible coalition with Labour

Seymour’s goal is for ACT to hold the balance of power after the next election after both the Greens and New Zealand First fail to win enough votes to stay in Parliament.

Although ACT aligns closer with National and has served in Coalitions with it before, Seymour is not ruling out shacking up with Labour.

“It would depend,” he says.

“If we thought Labour was prepared to do some substantial stuff to make New Zealand a better place, then potentially we could go with them.”

But, at the moment, he says that is difficult to imagine; it’s also likely Labour would not be keen on the idea.

With a shake-up in the National Party leadership on the way, questions may be raised about the competition for the Epsom electorate.

Last year, English called a press conference where he told National supporters in the electorate to vote for Seymour.

The ACT leader is not envisaging a change to this process, saying the new National leader would be “incredibly stupid” if they did away with the agreement as it would “almost eliminate the possibility of them being in government in 2020.”