Following the 1999 election, in which Act attempted to mobilise support on the basis of a socially conservative or populist platform, the more radical and policy-seeking faction of Act attempted to pull the party back towards its founding principles. Most significantly, this involved installing Catherine Judd – a Roger Douglas nominee who had not previously been involved in the party - into the party presidency. As president, Judd then instigated the ‘Liberal Project’ – an attempt to develop and reiterate Act as a party of social and economic liberalism. [Read more below]
Following the 1999 election, the radical faction of Act attempted to push the party back towards its founding principles. At its 2000 annual conference, Douglas castigated the party and leadership for letting the credibility of the party decline (Johns, 12 Nov 2000: p.A2). But it was not until the following year, when Douglas decided to stand down as president, that the struggle took on a visible nature. Douglas’ anointed successor, Catherine Judd – who had not been a member of the party – won the race arguing that Act's brand should not be diluted by headline-hunting sideshows such as Hide's perk-busting campaigns.
Judd, a public relations company director, had previously been employed as an adviser to the Fourth Labour Government and then later for the Act party. She also worked for the Business Roundtable through her own consultancy firm, Awaroa Partners (Coddington, 2001: p.65). In fact, the formation of the party was encouraged by the Business Roundtable, which apparently provided capital resources, legitimation, and political guidance (Mulgan, 1997a: p.254). One of the main links with the Roundtable was Barrie Saunders, a founder-member of Act, who was also a public relations consultant for the Business Roundtable (Armstrong, 1993: p.9). Act has also been closely aligned to the Employers Federation, and the Federation’s communications manager, Andy Gregory, was a foundation member of the party (Armstrong, 1993: p.9). Similarly, Kathryn Asare, a PR consultant with Business New Zealand, was a former press secretary for the party.
In terms of a more rightwing libertarian influence, there were actually a number of philosophical libertarians involved in the start up of Act. One, Ian Fraser later went on to found the Libertarianz party with Lindsay Perigo and Deborah Coddington. While involved in Act, Fraser wrote the part of Act constitution that states that ‘individuals are the rightful owners of their lives and therefore have inherent freedoms and responsibilities… the proper function of government is to protect such freedom and not assume such responsibilities.’
But Catherine Judd never joined Act until about one month before becoming president of the party in 2001. Encouraged into the presidency by Roger Douglas, Judd’s presidency represented an attempt by the more neo-liberal faction of the party to return the policy-pursuing strategy.
Judd, an urban social liberal, did not fit in well with Act’s new-found provincial-style populism. She pushed her own agenda by launching the “Liberal Project” within the party, which aimed ‘to recreate and promote a "Liberal Vision" for Act' (Judd, 9 Nov 2001). Initially the project failed to make much of an impression on the party, and in the 2002 general election Act repeated much of its 1999 socially conservative strategy. But more liberal people did become involved in the party – such as the new party manager Graham Watson, who successfully championed a liberal stance on marijuana reform. The party also took more liberal approaches in areas like immigration, where previously the party had been reluctant to diverge from their populist platform.
Next blog post: The 2002 campaign