In mid-October leader Rodney Hide declared his party’s strong commitment to helping National into power: ‘We are nailing our colours to the mast. We are going to support the next National-led government, whether they want us or not’. He stressed that he wanted ‘Act to play a pivotal part’ in a government of change.
Yet the Act leadership was still inclined to take potshots at National. For instance, Hide declared ‘I disagree a lot with Bill English because he is a conservative and so he never changes anything but just keeps it as it is. No-one can remember a decision that Bill has made’. Likewise, he also labeled the National Party as ‘socialist’, a line that list candidate and founder Roger Douglas was to frequently argue. Douglas lumped National as being on the ‘left’ with Labour and that the ‘socialist’ National Party needed reviving. Other scathing attacks during the campaign suggested that Act wished to show itself as the only real option for change.
But most of the time, Act put out a message that portrayed itself in a ‘supportive’ role for National – with Hide saying that only his party could put some ‘backbone’ into a National-led government. This was reminiscent of the Labour’s left-flank Alliance party’s 1999 campaign slogan that the Alliance would be the ‘heart of the new government’. The ‘backbone’ theme morphed into effective advertising (created by John Ansell), effectively replacing Act’s early slogan of ‘The Guts to Do What's Right’. Hide emphasized Act’s role in helping a National-led government produce change, and the difference that a new government would make. In one speech to supporters in Auckland Hide was reported as using the word ‘difference’ more than 20 times (Tahana, NZH, Oct 13, 2008).
Act contributed to John Key’s strong strategy of presenting National as having serious and harmonious coalition possibilities by also stressing Act’s enthusiasm for the Maori Party joining a National-led coalition government. Hide told one public meeting that ‘I've always enjoyed working with the Maori Party and we sit beside each other’, and ‘I think the Maori Party shares some of our concerns and issues and I've said to Tariana [Turia] they should get involved in the next government - I think it'd be great’ (quoted in Tahana, NZH, Oct 13, 2008).
Despite Act’s critiques of the National Party’s policy moderation, Act also moderated itself. Although former founding leader Roger Douglas was reintroduced as the party’s number three on the party list, even he was remarkably moderate on the campaign trail. His reputation for radicalism belied the reality that Douglas was now without the Rogernomics. His grand vision was mostly gone. He had obviously learned from Richard Prebble and Rodney Hide that the 'radical stuff has to go' and that under the new professionalized environment, politicians were not supposed to say anything too bold. Rather than representing anything from the 'old days' of big picture politics and grand ideological conflict, Douglas had quickly adapted to the new bland consensus politics of the 2000s.
Most surprising was Douglas' promise to increase government expenditure. While he stated that he did not want an Act government to increase spending as much as Labour had over the last nine years, he nonetheless wanted it increased. Act’s promise was to increase it by no more than the rate of inflation, although the party conceding that in some areas the expenditure would need to increase even faster than inflation - especially in health to reduce waiting lists, and on police to reduce crime. Other areas of taxation policy also appeared surprisingly un-neoliberal Whereas most neoliberals prefer to have a greater proportion of government revenue to be collected from sales taxes, Douglas actually suggested reducing GST and petrol tax.
Act essentially ran two separate election campaigns: one for leader Rodney Hide in Epsom, and one for Act nationally. These parallel campaigns reflected the historic schism in the party between the populist, and pragmatic high-visibility Hide, and the more ideologically-pure neoliberal party vote campaign represented by the Roger Douglas faction. Indeed Douglas was brought back into the party not only to revitatise its image and support, but as a policy-focused counterpoint to Hide’s more populist approach. However, Act kept Douglas in a relatively low profile.
Informing Voters? Politics, Media and the New Zealand Election 2008, edited by Chris
Published by Pearson Education, 2009.
More information here.
Table Of Contents
1. Introduction: Mediated Politics - Geoffrey Craig, Janine Hayward, Chris Rudd
2. Party Strategy and the 2008 Election - Bryce Edwards
3. The Election Campaign on Television News - Margie Comrie
4. Leaders’ Debates and News Media Interviews - Geoffrey Craig
5. ‘Vote for me’: Political Advertising - Claire Robinson
6. Newspaper Coverage - Chris Rudd and Janine Hayward
7. The Maori Party and Newspaper Coverage - Ann Sullivan
8. Online Media - Peter John Chen
9. Conclusion: Don’t shoot the messenger? - Geoffrey Craig, Janine Hayward and Chris Rudd