Rodney Hide and Don Brash want to lead ACT. That much we know; the rest is cloudy. So let's look at some of the core questions, battles and potential strategies...

It'll come down to the numbers. It always does. The Brash "coup" seems to be struggling to gain traction, up against Hillary Calvert's and, crucially, John Boscawen's initial loyalty to Rodney Hide. But that's not to say the temptation to change leaders won't be strong given Hide's woes in Epsom and ACT's continued low polling.

While most of the headlines in the recent TVNZ and TV3 polls were focused on Labour, it seems some on the right were more exercised by ACT's numbers, stagnant on one percent support. (Check out ACT's poll tracking fort he past 3.5 years on our Poll of Polls). There's also been talk in political circles that polls in Epsom have Hide languishing well behind an unnamed National candidate - well behind.

When your party relies utterly on that one seat, it's only natural that bad polling in that electorate would prompt some hard questions. Sure, Epsom is always National's to keep or give away - remember, it has the highest National party vote of any seat in the country. But ACT has finally realised it needs to, well, act.

It seems that reality sunk in a few months ago, with Hide and Boscawen offering Brash a spot as MP and then the co-leadership. But offered an inch, the former National leader has asked for a mile - that is, the leadership all to himself. Which is disrespectful, but hardly surprising, given that Brash comes from the pure economics crowd who have despaired while Hide has led ACT into more populist politics, alongside the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Coastal Coalition.

Brash and others have been looking into starting another free market party, at first with the likes of Colin Craig and Muriel Newman, more recently without them. But as anyone in business knows, it's easier to acquire than to launch from scratch. And if you're ACT, better to absorb the competition than enter a death-wrestle with it. So if you're a non-partisan free marketer, Brash is a no-brainer.

The problem with that scenario, however, is one Rodney Hide. He won't give up without a fight; he may well prefer the death wrestle, or to bring the house down on everyone. And I suspect National would rather work with Hide than with Brash, for the simple reason that it's always easier to deal with a politician than a zealot.

Yet as odd as it may sound, both Hide and Brash might both be happy enough where things stand as of today. Hide is keeping silent, hoping Brash will hang himself and optimistic the MPs that owe him so much will stand by him. Brash is milking all the publicity he can, knowing that whether he wins ACT or starts a new party, he's at least rebuilding his public profile.

For now, it's very fluid. It would take Brash ten minutes to apply to join the party with an online form and a credit card. His application would then be considered by the board at its meeting this weekend. The fact he hasn't applied suggests he wants to be confident of the result before tying his horse to ACT's wagon.

So what about Epsom? National's electorate chair Aaron Bhatnagar hasn't committed yet, but is the frontrunner for the seat. He's also keen to see what he calls "a quality National candidate" stand. That is, he reflects the mood amongst some Nats in Epsom that they've done enough favours for ACT and Hide's time is up.

Better to reclaim the seat; if you still need ACT let Boscawen win Tamaki by doing to Allan Peachey what National did to Richard Worth in 2005.

The problem with all this politicking is that voters don't necessarily play ball. Even if John Key continues his nudge-nudge message begun last week, in which he said National would simply focus on the party vote in Epsom, it may not be enough to guarantee Hide the seat. It may require Key offering Hide an explicit endorsement. Even then, who knows? And would a National PM really endorse another party?

What if, for example, Winston Peters chooses to stand there? Or another Brash-led right wing party? And what about John Banks, who could probably win Epsom regardless of favours from National or ACT?

If National voters are confident enough that their party will win a second term, might they be willing to disobey orders or toy with their own leaders? I was reminded today of how National lost Rangitikei to Bruce Beetham in 1978, not because the people of Marton and surrounding areas loved Social Credit, but because they wanted to make a point. It was a point that cost National the seat for three terms, almost losing the 1981 election along the way.

Brash now has to strategise. He's wondering whether to defer his presentation to the ACT board until an extraordinary meeting next week. But who is helped by this dragging on another week or two? That's a crucial question. Another is whether he could win another seat, with or without more nudges and winks from National. As Brash himself points out, he has lived in Tamaki and, for a long time, on the North Shore.

Let's roll out a few others: Should Peachey be given a comfortable list place and levered out of the seat? Should a patsy be chosen in North Shore, opening the door to Brash? Could Brash take these seats on his own merit? Or is his personal brand too damaged by The Hollow Men, the exclusive Brethren, and his affair? Is there room for two parties to the right of National?

And they're just off the top of my head.

When all is said and done, the most pressing ones are whether Hide can find any more favour in Epsom or whether a Brash-led party would have a better shot, there, or even in another seat. Because it comes down to numbers. The polling companies, no doubt, will be out in force, while Boscawen et al are under immense pressure.

Comments (12)

by Matthew Percival on April 26, 2011
Matthew Percival

There are a number of really interesting scenario's that could play out with this. Brash's ability to win a seat has to be questioned given his somewhat tarnished name regardless of a potential ACT leadership. Hide's ability to win a seat also looks shaky.

So in my opinion the bigger question is can Brash or Hide get John Banks to contest the Epsom seat on their behalf and garner enough party votes to get back into parliament.

National may have its hand forced in Epsom if Hide and Brash/Banks and possibly Peters contest the seat.

The centre-right could also suffer a hit with party votes to ACT and a new Brash party not producing any seats while The Hone Party nabs a couple on the centre-left with a lower %.

Best case scenario for National – Brash wins the ACT leadership and gets Banks to contest Epsom.

by Tim Watkin on April 26, 2011
Tim Watkin

I have no doubt that Brash would love to get Banks on the ballot. I'm just not convinced Banks can be bothered, even to boot out Hide. And while the right of National would love the pressure that would bring to bear on Key to move back to the Douglas/Richardson ideology, I don't imagine it's Key's dream scenario. Already Winston has a press release out saying the Brash takeover is an attempt by the rich to sell-off assets, hand the country over to foreigners and cut wages.

The statement of Key's today that stood out was the line that he has a fair bit in common with that crowd, but doesn't see the point in advocating extreme policies that will only be over-turned by future governments. Better incremental change.

Key learnt his methods from Clark, not Douglas.

by Tom Gould on April 27, 2011
Tom Gould

Maybe I'm just naive, but surely the last thing Brash would want is for ACT to hand him the leadership. Isn't the plan to get them to reject him, so he has a free hand to set sail himself and leave Hide clinging to the wreckage, along with the sensible sentencing crazies? Brilliant plan, really. Imagine it? Banks the new Minister of Local Government, running around Auckland like he really did win the Mayorality after all? Worth every cent.

by Tim Watkin on April 27, 2011
Tim Watkin

Tom, that sounds more cynical than naive! This is all a publicity stunt for his own new party? Maybe. Hard to know with Brash. It's believable he could be contriving all this... but it's also believable that he could be naive enough himself to launch an open coup without having done the numbers.

by Iain Butler on April 27, 2011
Iain Butler

"...Hide has led ACT into more populist politics, alongside the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Coastal Coalition."

Here's a question: Shouldn't a more populist agenda make you more, well, popular?

by peasantpete on April 27, 2011

Who is funding /advising Brash?

Brash appears rather naive but he is not stupid enough to go into this withoiut financial backing and advice.

Hopefully Epsom has a reasonable choice of candidates to choose from.

Faced with a Brash Party, a Hide Party, a National Party line up Epsom voters could create mayhem. Tut. tut!

Such a split could allow a Green, Labour or (shriek!) a Winston candidate to win.

Bring it on!


I love mmp.

by william blake on April 28, 2011
william blake

@pete, I would hazard a guess at Rodger Douglas being behind Brash's coup. Douglas hinted at a new right wing party when he revealed that he was retiring, this may well be the first step; redecorating the living room instead of moving house.


by william blake on April 28, 2011
william blake

Oh fuck, Rodney just resigned, asset sales and coal oop down pit then.

by peasantpete on April 28, 2011

I wonder if Brash's survey results will become public?

This was his patu/taiaha/mere/tewhatewha.

ACT/Rodney wilted.

It would be very interesting to see the survey construction and scope.

Brash claims he funded the research himself.

by Tim Watkin on April 28, 2011
Tim Watkin
Ian, if you take the definition of populist to be "appealing to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people", then not necessarily; at least, not with everyone. Appealing to the prejudices of some can be very unappealing to others.


by Hesiod on April 29, 2011

brash and co are in the category of useful idiots for the new right.

they buzz around making a lot of noise but they really have no idea and they aare useful because they know everybody and who to give the best deals to.

it all comes down to money in the end.

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