Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ACT List 2008: announcement 11am on Wednesday

Being away I can't promise any immediate commentary, but check all the usual places for details at 11am on Wednesday, especially the ACT website: www.act.org.nz.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Limited blogging

I'm out of town for the next few weeks, so blogging will be limited or non-existent for a little while. But I'll be back in plenty of time to cover ACT's fortunes as it begins its election campaign.

ACT List 2008: not today?

I couldn't find any trace of an announcement of the ACT List in any of the usual places, so unless a release is scheduled for tonight I assume it has been delayed. Perhaps it is possible that ACT's Board was only deciding the List order, with the announcement of it only to come later.

My information that the List would be unveiled on August 16 was in the July 4 issue of member e-mail newsletter ACTion.
Towards the Party List #7

The Board will decide the order of the Party List on Saturday 16 August, based mainly on ability to participate effectively in the Parliamentary process.

An important part of the build-up is for the Board to interview the candidates, particularly those who are seeking a favourable place on the List, starting in Wellington on 6 July.

In addition, we are rapidly approaching the time for the indicative ballot, where the Board seeks the views of the Members of the Party on the relative merits of our Candidates.

All those on the Candidates Register at 18 July will participate in the indicative ballot (apart from any who specifically ask to be excluded). After that date the Candidates Register will remain open, but the latecomers will just have to “take their chances”.

Very clever

Very clever indeed.

Heather Roy has a relaunched website with a new news blog called "Royters". Which person in the office had that stroke of genius I wonder? The name alone is reason enough to visit!

Incidentally I'm told from sources within National that Roy has little chance of beating former ACT MP Stephen Franks in the Wellington Central electorate. Roy is truly a credit to ACT and an asset to Parliament though, so I hope ACT polls enough to get her in alongside Hide.

ACT List 2008: what would be a "dream team"?

There are just hours to go until the ACT List is scheduled to be revealed - today, August 16. I'm not aware of any delays to the announcement and so hope to put some commentary later today on the release. In the meantime, here is some healthy speculation and wild guessing to get your teeth into.

Back in February, we were told that Sir Roger Douglas would be just one of a "dream team" of candidates that ACT would announce during the course of the year. Yet there have been few, if any, truly stellar candidates unveiled. That's not to say that some interesting names did not appear in the list of candidates who put themselves forward to be ranked by members: Pauline Gardiner for one is an intriguing proposition. Depending on her list placing and how strong her profile becomes, as a former National cum United MP up until 1996 she would be better placed than most to win over more moderate National supporters.

Other people in the list ranking exercise of interest include Kenneth Wang, who heads ACTs "Asian Chapter" and Hardev Brar, a businessman of Indian background who was on ACT's List in 2005. As Winston Peters likes to remind us, the "Asian" voter bloc in New Zealand is a growing one. If ACT can harness this even to a small degree it will be doing well.

Who else could be on a "dream team" for ACT? What follows are some ideas in no particular order of who could and/or should be on the ACT List today. A note that this is pure speculation - enjoy!
  • Paul Holmes. Pictured with Rodney Hide at the ACT function in the Herald on Sunday the day after the election in 2005. Gave flattering comments on Hide's autobiography in 2007. Gave media training to Don Brash, proponent of ACT-like ideas. Is retiring from radio at the end of 2008 - perhaps would like a chance to be finally openly partisan and stay in the public limelight. Still has a big public profile, particularly in Auckland. A natural communicator who would package ACT ideas more appealingly. Would be a good number 3 pick. Cons: viewers did not follow him to Prime TV; no guarantee they would follow him to ACT either. Would have to get out of radio contract early to get Hosking in the chair well before the ratings period in October.

  • Jenny Shipley and other former National figures. You want National's vote? Try putting some National faces on the campaign and send a message to National supporters that not everyone is a Key fan. Shipley is from the right of National, has been out of politics for a while and is perhaps longing for another chance to tackle Helen Clark in a TV debate. She has business experience with her company "Jenny Shipley New Zealand Ltd" which she formed after leaving politics. Also try Max Bradford, ardent supporter of the free market and famous for privatising the electricity sector.

  • Maurice Williamson and other current National figures. Williamson has been sidelined since 1999 in National. He's also from the right of the party and is not a Key acolyte. What better way to draw attention to ACT than a bust-up within National over the centrist positions taken by Key? As a current MP, Williamson could defect to ACT right now and boost ACT's parliamentary profile (the "waka jumping" legislation no longer applies).

  • Immigrant dairy owners. They're hard-working small businessmen, supporters of low taxes and unfortunately all too often suffer the effects of violent crime - an ideal platform for ACT's law and order policy. They are the face of much of Auckland. They're non-white, an asset for a party stereotyped as a gang of "rich white men".

  • Charlie Pedersen (head of Federated Farmers). If ACT could capture more of the rural vote, it could easily boost its party vote up to 4-5%. Currently this is the preserve of National. ACT has some rural faces, as noted in my last post, but none who carry significant political weight in the rural community. As the head of FF, Pedersen would send a strong message to rural National voters that the Nats aren't the only choice in 2008. With the loss of Gerry Eckhoff as an MP in 2005, ACT lacks a farmer on board; Hide has given the party a very urban feel with his focus on the Epsom electorate. Con: Pedersen is not in the best of health. Also try: Craig Norgate (managed the Fonterra merger, now heading PGG Wrightson).

  • Barry Colman - ACT has a reputation for being a party of "big business" but going by the names in my last post is really a party of small businessmen - essentially the lesser known petit bourgeois. Colman, on the other hand, is one of the country's few big businessmen (publisher of the NBR) and carries significant weight in the business world.

  • Theresa Gattung - all the benefits of Colman with the extra benefit that she is a woman. With fewer than 20% females ACT could certainly do with a few more to balance up matters.

  • Roger Kerr, Graeme Scott, Catherine Judd...these are definitely "old ACT" faces but a dream team needs to also satisfy the party base. Graeme Scott, former Treasury secretary, is obviously popular with free marketeers and missed out in 2005 despite the plum 3rd position on ACT's List due to the disastrous election result.

  • Tim Shadbolt - against the EFA and the subject of my speculative piece earlier this year. Extremely popular as a personality and particulary with the elderly - could help ACT to pick up some of the grey vote. Might be looking for a chance to get into national politics, especially if he's looking for a new challenge. Think of him as a cuddly Winston Peters.

  • You. In the spirit of TIME magazine's 2006 "Person of the Year". Let's be honest - voters don't scrutinise the ACT list that closely, especially down at place 46 or so. If you're reading this blog, you're obviously interested in ACT and quite likely support their ideas. Why not pop along to see Nick Kearney - the party secretary whose street address is at the top of ACT's website and other materials as part of ACT's authorisation message - and get him to put you on the list of hopefuls?!
Those are the wild guesses - but the reality may unfortunately turn out to be much more ordinary...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Special report: the ACT List 2008 (part 2)

What follows is a breakdown into categories of ACT members who have put themselves forward for selection for ACT's List at the 2008 election. I have collated this list using the biographies provided and occasionally using personal background knowledge. Obviously I have gone by the information provided by the nominees and could only place them in categories for which information was provided. For Alan (Smilie) Wood I had no information other than that he "[l]ives near Kerikeri".

Nominees will usually have been placed into at least two categories, one reflecting their geographical location and another their occupation, as well as any other relevant categories. Sometimes even relatively straightforward information could not be deduced, e.g. if no location information was given and a mobile phone number used as the contact number (preventing me from using the area code to deduce region). If you notice any errors please let me know.

As I understand it not every person on this list will necessary be on the final party list. If the Board does not like a particular person, he or she could be left out. Space reasons could also lead to an omission of some of the lesser-known candidates, particularly if there are a number of stellar candidates put forward between now and August 16.

But here are a few statistics.* Of the 57 names:

33% (19) come from the North Island outside of Auckland
32% (18) come from the Auckland area
28% (16) are current or former small business owners
19% (11) are aged 60+
19% (11) are apparent foundation/early ACT members (joined in 1996 or earlier)
17% (10) are students, recent former students or otherwise young people
16% (9) come from the South Island
16% (9) are women
11% (6) are from a farming or related rural background (e.g. agribusiness)
11% (6) are bloggers
9% (5) are current or former MPs
5% (3) are from an apparent non-European background
5% (3) are lawyers
4% (2) are academics

Some commentary: rather than me setting out the categories, they tended to choose themselves by nature of their frequency. However I admit that the intention of this exercise was to see to what degree the traditional "stereotypes" of ACT held. To this end, I expected to see quite a few business people, but was struck by the fact that 28% were current or recent business owners. I also expected quite a few people to come from Auckland, which proved correct (32%), but was surprised to see that even more (33%) came from elsewhere in the North Island. One of the more interesting statistics was that around 11% are bloggers, which I am sure would be one of the highest proportions amongst political parties (although Labour does have Jordan Carter!).

My most dicey category is the "apparent non-European background" one. I could class just 3 people into this category, but there may be more which I did not pick up. Some readers may ask why this category matters: I would respond by referring you to ACT's perennial "image problem", as discussed in my dissertation (chapter 3). The same goes for the alarmingly low number of female nominees - just 16%.

Keep watching Douglas to Dancing for more analysis and commentary on ACT's 2008 List composition, including coverage of the final List when it is announced on August 16.

***

Raw data

North Island except Auckland
Vince Ashworth
Shane Atkinson
Michael Bridge
Alan Daniel Davidson
Mark Marshall Davies
Frances Denz
Colin du Plessis
Pauline Gardiner
Duncan Lennox
Garry Mallett
Lindsay Mitchell
David Jeffrey Moore
James Jeremy Read
Ron Scott
Graeme Tulloch
Alan (Smilie) Wood
Peter McCaffrey
Mike Collins
Heather Roy

Auckland and environs
Michael Bailey
Dr. Lech Beltowski
Hardev Brar
Kevin Patrick Campbell
Hon. Sir Roger Douglas
Beryl Marjorie Good
Rodney Hide
Andrew Jollands
Nick Kearney
Rodney Martin
Stephen Martin
Thomas John McClelland
Athol McQuilkan
Peter Boris Tashkoff
John Thompson
Scott Uren
Kenneth Wang
Max Whitehead

Apparent current or former small business owners
Ray Bassett
Colin du Plessis
Kevin Patrick Campbell
Hilary Calvert
Carl Freimann
Beryl Marjorie Good
Roly Henderson
Garry Mallett
Athol McQuilkan
Jonathan Cyril Olsen
Ron Scott
Toni Severin
Benjamin David Smith
David Tattersfield
Graeme Tulloch
Max Whitehead

Apparent 60+
Shane Atkinson
Michael Bailey
Ray Bassett
Dr. Lech Beltowski
Alan Daniel Davidson
John Fraser
Hon. Sir Roger Douglas
Thomas John McClelland
Athol McQuilkan
David Edward Olsen
Graeme Tulloch

Apparent foundation/early ACT members (joined in 1996 or earlier)

Vince Ashworth
Alan Daniel Davidson
Hilary Calvert
Hon. Sir Roger Douglas
Patricia Martin
Colin Nicholls
James Jeremy Read
Ron Scott
Thomas John McClelland
Rodney Hide
Clint J Heine

Students/recent former students/young people
Michael Bridge
Mike Collins
Mark Marshall Davies
Clint J Heine
Peter McCaffrey
Ian Donald Parker
Benjamin David Smith
Michael Tabachnik
Andrew Falloon
Stephen Martin

South Island
Hilary Calvert
John Fraser
Thomas Edward (Ted) Howard
Aaron Keown
Patricia Martin
Colin Nicholls
Geoffrey Russell
David Tattersfield
Andrew Falloon

Women
Hilary Calvert
Frances Denz
Pauline Gardiner
Beryl Marjorie Good
Patricia Martin
Lyn Murphy
Toni Severin
Lindsay Mitchell
Heather Roy

Farmers/rural background
David Edward Olsen
Graeme Tulloch
Vince Ashworth
Roly Henderson
Athol McQuilkan
Graeme Tulloch

Bloggers
Clint J Heine
Peter McCaffrey (also blogs for ACT on Campus)
Rodney Hide
Lindsay Mitchell
Peter Boris Tashkoff
Michael Bridge

Current or former MPs
Hon. Sir Roger Douglas
Pauline Gardiner
Rodney Hide
Heather Roy
Kenneth Wang

Apparent non-European background
Kenneth Wang
Hardev Brar
Peter Boris Tashkoff

Lawyers
Nick Kearney
Mark Marshall Davies
Hilary Calvert

Academics

Dr Lech Beltowski
Lyn Murphy

*Statistics have been updated after the initial posting to reflect information supplied to me by readers

Special report: the ACT List 2008 (part 1)

ACT members have been receiving voting forms and brief biographies of members who have put themselves forward to be on the party list for this year's election. The accompanying information sets out the purpose of the vote, which is non-binding:
On 16 August 2008, the Board of Trustees of the ACT Party will decide our Party List for the coming General Election. In the build-up, the Board members are gathering information about the contending candidates from many sources to assist them with that responsibility, including:

- Speeches by the candidates
- Summaries of qualifications and experience
- Interviews with the candidates
- Opinions of other people

As part of that preparation, the Constitution provides for a ballot in which all members of the Party can express their views by ranking (1) the candidates across the whole of New Zealand, and (2) the candidates in their region. The ballot papers will be analysed by the same computer method as for previous elections, and the results will [be] presented to the Board. What the Constitution says is:

"The results of the ballot shall however be indicative only to the Board and shall not compel the Board to name any particular Potential Candidate on the List or at any particular place."
The information continues with a reminder that the list of candidates on the ballot is not exhaustive, as it represents only the prospective candidates who have registered as at 18 July 2008. In other words, any number of others could suddenly appear on ACT's list come 16 August 2008 and in the case of any "star candidates", almost certainly will be. This means they do not have to show their hand right now.

There are 57 names on the ballot. As ACT members who feel compelled to stand for Parliament we can consider these people to be the most ardent supporters of the party. While it is possible their backgrounds do not necessarily represent those of all members or supporters, the 57 names are the closest I have to a snapshot showing who is ACT in the year 2008. More valuable of course would be the register containing all members and supporters, but this is something ACT, like all political parties, keeps safely under lock and key.

In part 2, I break down the 57 names into categories and find some intriguing patterns.

MMP officially under threat

The New Zealand Herald has today devoted its editorial to agreeing with National on holding a referendum on MMP. As I've previously criticised, ACT is supporting a referendum on the basis that voters should have a chance to put forward their opinion. And National has committed to holding a binding referendum no later than 2011 on the MMP system. Yet as the Herald editorial shows, there is so much misinformation on MMP that no "fair" referendum could ever take place. I shook my head at the following in the editorial:
Those who backed MMP no longer wanted unbridled power to reside in the hands of a single party. They also hoped for more fruitful and less confrontational consensus politics, thanks to the probable demand for governing coalitions.

Time has confirmed they were overly optimistic. Parliament is not noticeably more congenial and people are irked by several of MMP's characteristics, most notably unelected list MPs and the disproportionate influence wielded by minor parties.
Some thoughts on this:
  • Point 1: I'd like to know who all these people were who thought Parliament would become more "congenial" with MMP. Friendliness is not the aim of proportional representation and despite another oft repeated claim, I wouldn't say "co-operation" is either. Politics is always about power and this does not change simply because the number of parties represented in Parliament increases. What MMP does offer is fairer representation of interests and the opportunity for "niche parties" such as ACT put forward their ideas. Parties which have goals in common will naturally seek to work with each other, depending on what numbers are needed after voters have cast their votes on election day.

  • Point 2: list MPs are not "unelected". Political parties put forward lists before each election. Voters can read these. If you don't like who is on a list - and plenty of voters will not like seeing Sir Roger Douglas's name on ACT's, to cite one example - then you don't vote for that party. For me this claim is always the most irksome, because it is demeaning to the many, many hardworking list MPs in Parliament. Many list MPs could never win an electorate, not because they are stupid, but because there is not an overwhelming concentration of supporters for their party in any one location. ACT supporters should think of Heather Roy, who is easily one of the most diligent and pleasant MPs around. As the blog site co-run by probable ACT list candidate Clint Heine recently pointed out, Roy will have little chance against National candidate Stephen Franks (ironically himself a former ACT MP). But it would be a great pity if Roy were not returned to Parliament. That is what the list is for.

  • Point 3: "disproportionate influence wielded by minor parties". Disproportionate influence? Looking at current arrangements, this is hardly the case. New Zealand First and United Future provide the numbers for Labour to govern, but have little more than token positions. Yes, Winston Peters is Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade - but he merely ceremonially represents the foreign policy of the government as a whole; moreover, the foreign affairs portfolio is probably the least partisan of all. As for United Future, Peter Dunne is Minister of Revenue. If you'd forgotten that, or (to use Don Brash's favourite phrase) can't recall the last time you heard anything about what he's been doing, I think it shows exactly what "influence" his party exerts - a very small one precisely in line with support for United Future at the 2005 election. My other major complaint about this part of the editorial is the use of the self-fulfilling term "minor parties". Please - be less normative and call them small parties instead.
The smokescreen that supporters of another referendum on the electoral system put forward is that a return to FPP is not necessarily the desired outcome. Despite the overall thrust of the editorial (against MMP, as indicated by the title "Referendum due on MMP"), the Herald makes some sound observations on what could possibly replace MMP:
It is hard...to spot [the] alternative. STV's stocks have slumped thanks to its use in district health board elections, and preferential voting, similarly, is viewed widely as unwieldy.

This offers further reason to think twice about casting aside MMP. As does the fact that, as much as it may need refinement, it can be defended strongly on the basis of having, by and large, delivered representative governments over the past 12 years. It should be given a fair trial.

In other words, the alternative proportional representation alternatives to MMP are fairly unappealing or unintelligible for most voters. FPP would therefore be the only genuine alternative. But for the reasons above, amongst others, this does not make it the correct one.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

One swallow does not make a summer, but...

As ACT strategist Brian Nicolle emphasised to me in written remarks last year, National has not won an outright majority since 1951 - the year of the waterfront workers' strike. One could argue that a landslide election victory is well overdue and deteriorating economic conditions (don't forget, New Zealand, not the United States, is the country halfway to a technical recession) offer fertile ground for a National 50%+ result. But if the rule, rather than the exception, prevails, we should expect National's support to erode over the next few months as voters seek to "keep Key honest". Presuming National steps down from current poll ratings of 50-55% to more realistic 40-45% levels, what happens to the 5-10% "froth"? ACT will be hoping some of it comes to itself.

A little hope for this came in the latest Roy Morgan poll, out on Friday. ACT - which these days normally doesn't even make it into polling commentary, leaving one to hunt for the light blue line just above the 0% mark in the accompanying graphic - has perhaps gained a little of what Duncan Garner et al. would call "traction". The party is now up to 2.5%. From Australia, Gary Morgan tells us:
New Zealand First has lost some ground in recent weeks likely due to the funding scandal surrounding leader, Winston Peters, while ACT NZ’s increase is likely due to the strong performance in Parliament of ACT NZ leader Rodney Hide in questioning Peters about where the funding has gone.
Well, maybe. I recalled similar optimism a while back and on searching through my old ACTion weekly e-newsletters found these comments in the April 18 edition:
New poll details released today by UMR Research showed the ACT Party polling below 1 per cent at the start of the year but support jumping to 2.4 per cent by March. So the ball has started rolling and the closer we get to election time the more the momentum will pick up. Roger’s prediction that if we can get to 3% we can get 7% might just come to pass or even surpass that.
It's been reported that UMR - the polling company used by the Labour Party - has withheld its polling data since April, so I don't know what more recent results are in UMR polls. But a reality check: in the New Zealand Herald's "poll of polls", ACT comes in at just 0.9%; in this week's Herald-Digipoll, ACT polled just 0.2% - surely its lowest-ever result. Until ACT starts registering higher results in other polls, treat the Morgan result as an outlier.

Still, an ACT contact pointed out to me the most recent results in the Morgan poll for ACT have been 1%, 1%, 1.5%, 2%, 2%, 0.5% and 2.5%* - "it's the trend that matters". That's a fair point - if you remove the 0.5% result, ACT has been putting on an average of half a percentage point per poll - but when measuring such miniscule figures I'm not sure how much validity they hold. To use another Duncan Garner word, wait and see whether ACT can gain "momentum" by the time of the next Roy Morgan poll - and move up to 3%.

As The Hive implies, the real story behind the Morgan poll is National's drop in support below the 50% mark, to 47.5%. In the most recent poll of polls, it reached 51.6%. If this trend is reflected in further polls, it suggests voters may be tempted to keep National in check by going to a small party. When this effect happened with Labour, New Zealand First and United Future became beneficiaries, as they cultivated a more centrist position. ACT needs to collect support from voters on National's right who dislike Key's compromises with the left over the likes of his adoption of the Working for Families policy.
  • UPDATE: some hours after I posted this I found Colin Espiner had written a commentary piece coming to similar conclusions as mine in the last paragraph - definitely worth reading:
    There may be another reason why the Yellow Coat of Epsom has a spring back in his step. National is giving Hide plenty of room to play on the centre-Right at the moment. The Working for Families announcement was an absolute gift. Judging by some of the comments on this blog, there will be a few disgusted National voters heading ACT’s way over the decision to continue to deliver welfare to upper-middle-income earners.
*corrected