Heather Roy

19 October 2020

Opinion Piece published in the Sunday Star Times on Sunday 18 October 2020

David Seymour has often lamented he’d like some friends to join him at parliament. It’s a lonely place at the best of times, but no-one knows this better than Seymour who has manned the ACT Parliamentary Party on his own for two parliamentary terms.

Now the electorate at large has given him not just one or two friends but likely nine as last night’s election result revealed.

Forget the two big old parties slogging it out for no change for government; this election has been David Seymour’s and therefore ACT’s.

Their fortunes began rising a little at the start of the year, climbing to a steady 7 – 8 percent throughout the election campaign. This is ACT’s best election ever, with 10 MPs making their way to parliament, trumping the nine strong ACT caucus (7.2% of the vote) in 2002.

ACT has had the free market/liberal space in the political spectrum to itself since entering parliament in New Zealand’s first MMP election in 1996 but support fell away when the public detected disunity within the party and punished them for this.

Theories abound about why ACT’s support has reached new heights. When the National Party isn’t doing well ACT picks up some of the disaffected vote. The ‘COLFO (gun owners) effect’ is credited for bringing a block to ACT, rewarding ACTs lone voice in opposing the haste with which the Labour-led government disenfranchised 250,000 law abiding hunters and recreational shooters in a knee jerk reaction to the Christchurch Mosque attacks.

Some even claim New Zealand First’s vanishing support has gone to ACT, ignoring the fact arch conservatives are unlikely to support ACT’s liberal approach to governing.

What shouldn’t be overlooked is David Seymour’s competent and steady adherence to a philosophical base since the 2014 election, both as support to a National government and in opposition. Not tempted to have a position on everything, he has prioritised a selection of issues carefully as his shepherding of the End of Life Choice bill has shown. The final outcome will be known in days to come.

Some of ACT’s former core support has undoubtedly ‘come home’. The challenge for the party now will be to keep that support base happy enough to want to stay home. MMP has brought better representation to our parliament, but it has also decreased traditional party loyalty in an environment of political liquefaction as this election has shown.

ACT, Seymour will no doubt gladly say, is no longer just one lone MP. His new friends bring both strength and challenge to the caucus table. ACT MPs are always strong-willed individuals connected by the desire for less government interference in our lives.

Managing a caucus of 10 requires a vastly different modus operandi for the leader and he’ll need the skills and experience of numbers two and three on the party list – Brooke van Velden and Nicole McKee – to come to the fore. A key appointment will be the parliamentary Chief of Staff – someone who knows how parliament works and can build trust and unite a new caucus.

Though the opposition benches will be disappointing, ACT’s smiles of success today are well earned and should be enjoyed, because tomorrow the hard work starts.