The changing political identity of the Act Party is the core focus of MP John Boscawen in writing about his party’s 2008 election campaign. Most notably, the leader was ‘repositioned’, the party’s oppositional style was dropped, friendships were sought with other minor parties, and controversial positions on Maori and the Treaty were abandoned. And although this sounds like Act were turning into ‘National-lite’, the party then campaigned on the basis that National was becoming ‘Labour-lite’. This is all discussed in the short and concise chapter by John Boscawen in the new post-election book Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008 edited by Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts. [Read more below]
John Boscawen declares at the start of the chapter that his ‘party decided it needed a new image – an image of independence’ (p.88). He then goes on to give an interesting insight into how the Act Party repositioned itself. First, the party wanted to display a different style:
In a reversal of its traditional oppositional style, the party decided to position itself “at the centre of politics”. During the 2005-2008 parliamentary term ACT reached out to all parties, hosting Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia at its 2006 conference and signaling it would be open to working with Labour and the Greens. The party also decided to position itself as more community focused and patriotic…. the party also identified several things it would not do… it had to abandon its traditional role of “holding the government to account”. Aside from resource constraints, this retreat was motivated by a new ethos where the party would become more positive in style and tone in an attempt to make its image more palatable to a wider range of voters (p.88).
There was also a substantial change of policy included in this repositioning:
Furthermore, the party decided it would like to be seen as more positive about New Zealand, and abandon controversial issues around the Treaty and Maori policies that the party saw as having been misconstrued as anti-Maori in the past (pp.88-89).
This message was designed to appeal to voters who desired a change of government but were concerned that National would be “Labour-lite”, delivering little substantial change in the country’s policy direction (p.91).
It will surprise some to learn from Boscawen that the fabled rich-man’s party was up against the wall in terms of campaign finances. Boscawen, a wealthy donor to the party himself, declares that the party ‘had little money in the bank’ (p.88). It’s certainly true that Act is a thinner version of its old self, in a number of ways: ‘In delivering this campaign we were limited by relatively little cash and a small volunteer base compared to prior years’ (p.92).
Over 500,000 mail deliveries were made in the last two weeks of the campaign, which ran alongside a modest radio and television schedule. Newspaper advertising was restricted to the final week, when additional funds became available, and took place in the three main centres (p.92).
We learn that Act focused on four groups of target voters: ‘economic literates’, ‘new migrants, especially Chinese’, ‘urban liberal women’, and ‘young urban voters’ (p.91). Also, ‘The party ran a call centre for the last month of the campaign which focused on farmers and “economic literates”’ (p.92).
Boscawen manages to show that the fledgling party gained a number of achievements in the 2008 campaign:
- 'In 2008 Hide quadrupled his majority, achieving a margin of 12,882 over National candidate Richard Worth from a previous 3102’ (p.90).
- ‘The party had healed a long-standing rift between the leadership and co-founder Roger Douglas’ (p.93).
- ‘Twelve years after first entering Parliament, ACT was in government for the first time’ (p.93).
But despite all these gains, one can’t help thinking after reading Boscawen’s chapter that despite campaigning on the basis that National had morphed into being ‘Labour-lite’, Act too had become ‘National-lite’.
Further book details:
Preface - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
Preface - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
Overview of the Election
2008: Key to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The last baby-boomer election - Colin James
2008: Leadership during transition - Jon Johansson
Political Party Perspectives
National - Steven Joyce
Labour - Grant Robertson
The Greens - Catherine Delahunty
ACT - John Boscawen
The Maori Party - Rahui Katene
The Progressives - John Pagani
United Future - Rob Eaddy
New Zealand First - Damian Edwards
New Zealand’s party system: a multi-party mirage? - Jennifer Curtin and Raymond Miller
2008: Images of political leadership in the campaign - Claire Robinson
2008: Media coverage of the election - Babak Bahador
2008: The international media and the election - Aljoscha Kertesz
2008: The campaign in cyberspace - Nicola Kean
2008: The YouTube campaign - Rob Salmond
2008: Voting behaviour and the keys to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The impact of the Electoral Finance Act - Bryce Edwards
2008: Opinion polls and prediction markets in New Zealand - Shaun McGirr and Rob Salmond
2008: National’s winning strategy - Therese Arseneau
Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008
Levine, Stephen (ed)
Roberts, Nigel (ed)
Victory is the
story of the New Zealand general election of 2008, in which the experienced and
long-serving prime minister, Helen Clark, was ousted by a political newcomer –
National’s John Key.
Veteran academic commentators Colin James, Jon Johansson, and Therese Arseneau offer perspectives on what New Zealanders were voting for when endorsing John Key and National, and what they were voting against. Several MPs elected for the first time in 2008 provide first-hand accounts of their parties’ campaigns, including Labour’s Grant Robertson; the Greens’ Catherine Delahunty; the Maori Party’s Rahui Katene; ACT’s John Boscawen; and the director of National’s winning campaign, Steven Joyce, appointed to Cabinet following National’s victory. New Zealand First’s doomed campaign is described by its campaign director, Damian Edwards, while party strategists John Pagani and Rob Eaddy provide accounts of the Progressive and United Future campaigns.
Key to Victory also investigates the important issues of the 2008 election, such as the impact of the Electoral Finance Act, and the likely future of New Zealand’s remaining small parties.
During the 2008 campaign political parties started getting to grips with websites, blogs, Facebook and YouTube, and ‘prediction markets’ competed with traditional polls in forecasting the election results. The book describes these developments and provides insights into the use of the media by John Key and Helen Clark in their rival campaigns for leadership. International reaction to the New Zealand campaign and the country’s vote for change is also highlighted.
Key to Victory includes a special DVD with excerpts from key campaign events including the televised leaders’ debates, the leaders’ opening night campaign addresses, parties’ TV ads and campaign billboards.