The post-Budget weekend has seen both National leader Judith Collins and Act’s David Seymour swerve away from the focus on Māori “separatism” to more traditional bread and butter issues – and Seymour to try to push his case to be deemed the “real” Opposition leader.
David Seymour focused on education at hisparty’s annual conference in Auckland this weekend, setting out policy for a new fund to pay good teachers bonuses. He also set out a policy for a four-year term.
At his “rally” at the ASB waterfront theatre Seymour also made a blatant raid on National’s position as the main Opposition party, arguing Act was the most stable and effective Opposition party as he tries to hold on to the voters that went from National to Act in 2020.
The decision to focus on education was a deliberate tack to try to pitch Act as the party focusing on issues that affect the so-called “ordinary New Zealander”.
In between running through the standard Act hot-button issues (regulatory reforms, free speech, the perils of “cancel culture”), Seymour’s pitch was that Act was the “sensible” party, producing policy and focused on solutions.
The reason why was outlined by Act’s President Tim Jago: his goal was to double the number of Act MPs from 10 to 20.
On the same day, National Party leader Judith Collins delivered a bit of the return of the “Crusher” in her pitch to party members at the last of a series of party regional conferences.
She noted Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis had delivered on his vow to bring down prisoner numbers– the prison population has dropped from 10,470 in September 2017 to 8,655 in March this year.
But Collins said that was not because Davis had cut crime: instead, Davis was “letting criminals out early”.
“National does not make friends with gangs. We do not cuddle patched gang members. We do not give in to them. We are the party of law and order.”
Unlike the other regional conference speeches, hers was mainly an attack on the Government’s record on delivery and the Budget. She also stuck to topics such as law and order and the economy.
It follows a month of both Seymour and Collins campaigning on measures Collins had described as “separatism by stealth”.
Collins used earlier regional conferences to question what the Government was intending for Māori, including the Māori Health Authority, recommendations for Māori governance in the He Puapua report, and whether Department of Conservation land or ownership of water infrastructure would be passed to Māori ownership.
A Newshub Reid Research poll showed it had had little impact: National’s polling was relatively stagnant and Collin’s low result as preferred Prime Minister was consistent with the results of a March 1 News Colmar Brunton poll, taken well before Collins first talked about separatism.
But Collins also told party members she was not letting up on the matter.
“It can be hard to raise these topics, but I am not afraid of hard work. I am nor afraid to tell people the truth.”
The difference between their speeches was that Seymour was on a high, cock-a-hoop after a smooth first seven months with a large caucus. Collins was nursing her party through a review to try to rebuild, and get back some of the voters Act had taken.
One difference in the speeches was telling: Collins did not even mention Act in her speech.
Seymour used his to take jabs at National as well as the Government.
He spoke of the “hokily-dokily happy-go-lucky days” of the John Key government, saying “serious thinking about important questions left the field” and the biggest issue was whether to change the flag.
There was also a return to another tradition of smaller Opposition parties: accusing the bigger one of stealing all your best ideas.
Seymour noted that the theme of the Act rally was “honest conversations” and he had heard the phrase a lot since he had first used it in his State of the Nation speech in February.
“I heard Mike Hosking interview a woman from Papakura and she kept saying it too. She copies me a lot.”
Collins is, of course, the MP for Papakura.
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