Factions continued to play a part in Act’s turmoil. As discussed an earlier blog post, there was a difference of opinion in the party between those wishing the party to market itself along ‘social justice’ lines, and those more old-fashioned rightwingers and conservatives who saw no sense in this strategy. Leader Richard Prebble came to agree with the latter faction, saying: ‘think we should concentrate on people who support us' (quoted in Corbett, 31 May 1996: p.14). Meanwhile party founder, Roger Douglas, became increasingly frustrated by some of the more populist campaigns and issues being pushed under the new leadership. [Read more below]
Despite expectations, it was not readily apparent that any factions developed within Act that were strongly opposed to the moderating direction that Act was moving in under Prebble’s leadership. The moderating of Act’s policy and identity was of course described by the leadership as a positive process rather than ‘an inevitable evil’. For example, according to Wellington Central’s Fraser and Zangouropoulos, justified the changes by saying that ‘If Act was to be a serious contender in the election it needed revitalisation’ (1998: pp.47). Likewise, campaign manager, Nick Stravs defended the moderation of policy by saying that Act’s previous ‘radical policies’ had ‘kept the party scoring below zero. The new strategy paid dividends' (Heeringa, 1996: p.27).
Of course, most people outside of the party (and therefore normally to the left of Act) did not see Act’s new found moderation as in anyway negative. One commentator suggested that ‘Prebble’s shift has given Act credibility and showed its ability to be pragmatic in the face of public opinion' (Corbett, 31 May 1996: p.14).
Only later, once the party was in Parliament, did more serious factions develop that disagreed over some of these changes. And outside of the caucus, Roger Douglas – who still had a strong role in the party – certainly had concerns about Act's direction, and in particular its populist campaigns. Diplomatically, Douglas explained his disapproval to the media by saying that ‘sometimes their message is so strong in other areas that it crowds out the message in areas I prefer to see them concentrate on' (quoted in Laugesen, 2 Nov 1997: p.C1).
Next blog post: The 1996 election campaign