David Seymour received one of the coldest receptions possible in Wellington, but not from the new crop of ACT voters considering giving him a shot
Outside Wellington railway station on Thursday, the temperature hovered around six degrees and the rain moved horizontally thanks to the capital’s famous Cook Strait winds.
The only people happy to be out there at 7.30am were David Seymour and his crop of soon-to-be ACT MPs. And even they pined for the days when Russell was the capital.
Seymour was beaming well before he had received the latest Colmar Brunton poll result, which put ACT’s likely presence in the next Parliament at 10 seats.
He claims a recent internal poll has put his party’s likely haul even higher at 12 seats, but either way he seems to be performing far better than the 0.5 percent vote share his party commanded at the last election. And if current polling holds true, ACT is on track for its best result ever.
After spending most of his electoral career as the unpopular kid who reads Ayn Rand out loud from the back of the classroom, Seymour is now the guy getting high-fived by people on the street.
Even in infamously left-wing Wellington, a steady stream of people stopped to get selfies, shake his hand or take a flyer as he moved from the railway station down Lambton Quay, out to Porirua, before shooting to Karori.
So why the sudden change of heart for a political brand which has been toxic for several electoral cycles?
Some of the reasons will be familiar to anyone who has followed Seymour’s bête noire Winston Peters’ rise in the polls during previous elections: the appeal of a “handbrake” who can hold the government to account and a undefined disenchantment with the two major parties.
More than that though, a lot of people simply just seemed to like him for no real reason at all.
One voter rushing to get out of the wind said he was supporting Seymour simply to inject “a bit of variety” into politics.
Former Labour Party voter Appa Vegi – who was at one of several mall foodcourts Seymour visited during his tour – seems to have taken Judith Collins’ recent allegations about an incoming wealth tax to heart, but thought Seymour was the best person to oppose it.
“I’ll tell you what I hate and that’s just Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern just chipping at one another.”
Meanwhile Fay Morgan – a 90-year-old Seymour met at Porirua’s North City Mall – said she was just sick of the bickering between Labour and National this election.
“[David Seymour] he’s very presentable. I don’t know. I don’t get into politics because it’s too controversial these days…I’ll tell you what I hate and that’s just Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern just chipping at one another.
“There’s nothing dignified about that. My father used to have a big Zenith radio and he used to listen to Parliament so I caught up with all the debates, but it was all gentlemanly.
“The few times that I’ve seen Parliament on the TV – because I never listen to it on the radio – they’re shouting each other down and not getting anything positive done.”
Robert Ngan, 74, was in the same mall as Morgan despite living in Wellington city (he was visiting Porirua’s North City Mall foodcourt because it was more “cosmopolitan” than what Wellington had to offer) and had a similar intangible affinity for Seymour.
“I reacted and responded to David because I like his persona and he does come across as genuine.
“And I’d love to see him in the halls of power as the major party and see what he produces, but I’ll never get to see that because he’ll always be the man chipping away at the foundations of the bigger parties you see.
“And that’s the big loss I think that we have in politics. We have some very capable people who never get to the top.”
Seymour said he believed ACT was attracting votes from people who voted for a number of different parties at the last election.
At a press conference held at Karori Mall (a mall he said was a “hot bed” of ACT support before discovering how small it was) Seymour claimed a breakdown of one TV network’s poll numbers had shown 10 percent of ACT’s supporters were from former Māori Party voters (something he put down to the party’s support for charter schools) while less than half (37 percent) were former National Party voters.
“We’ve got people who are from Labour who see the party’s marketing on an issue like housing has not translated into practical results. We’ve got people from New Zealand First who thought Winston would stand up to them and he didn’t.
“And we’ve got people from National Party who want the party to return to its free-market roots, but actually it hasn’t had those roots since 1935.”
Seymour then pivoted to a one issue where he believed National had caved on principle: the Commerce Amendment Bill which was passed two years ago and allows the Commerce Commission to conduct market studies of industries nominated by Ministers.
It was voted through by every party in Parliament except ACT, and produced a study which found a lack of competition within the fuel industry. Labour has pledged to direct the Commerce Commission to investigate the supermarkets.
“I think it’s abominable…it’s now being wielded as a political weapon in election campaigning to investigate an industry.
“The National Party voted for that. It’s completely wrong. We opposed it. It’s a very good example of the principled approach ACT does take on a range of issues, even when it may not have been particularly sexy.
“Were any of you guys going to ask about market studies in this stand-up?,” he asked.
“Not really the issue of the day,” one reporter quipped in reply.
“Well, maybe it should be,” Seymour said.