New Act leader 'getting lot of advice'

Jamie Whyte with his wife, Zainab Sokona-Whyte, and daughters Khadija, 6, and Rachel, 10. Photo / Natalie Slade
Jamie Whyte with his wife, Zainab Sokona-Whyte, and daughters Khadija, 6, and Rachel, 10. Photo / Natalie Slade

New Act leader Jamie Whyte says he has had no shortage of advice - it's often conflicting - about what sort of leader he should be.

"I'm getting a lot of advice and it's all contradictory," he told the Herald last night.

Everybody thought they knew what tactics would work but "they haven't got a clue and I don't know either".

"My strategy is this: since I don't know, why don't I just be myself and why don't I just say what I really think, because at least I won't soil myself in the process."

One of the things that put people off politicians was how "obviously calculating they are", Dr Whyte said.

It might be worth being calculating if it worked, but it didn't work.

"I'm sure to make mistakes. But it seems to me if I'm honest, I can't make a terribly big mistake."

Dr Whyte was elected in a secret ballot by the nine members of the Act board yesterday, over party president John Boscawen, and concedes the board probably thought he was a greater risk than the more experienced former MP.

David Seymour was selected as the party's Epsom candidate.

The election of the pair is seen as a move to break with the infighting of the past, and an attempted reincarnation as a party of ideas.

Last night a TV3-Reid Research poll put the party's support at zero - party membership is thought to have shrunk to no more than 1000.

Dr Whyte, 48, has lived for about six of the past 20 years in New Zealand and Mr Seymour, 30, has lived for two of the past seven years in New Zealand.

Both have philosophy degrees and Dr Whyte has been a noted writer and columnist in Britain.

Dr Whyte lives in Herne Bay with his wife, Zainab, originally from west Africa and raised in Belgium, and their two daughters, Rachel, 10, and Khadija, 6.

The girls attend the same school as the children of Labour Party leader David Cunliffe.

Dr Whyte's first few hours as new leader were marred by Mr Boscawen's decision to withdraw not only his fundraising services to the party but by his threat to withdraw his own substantial donations, which have been at least $250,000.

Mr Boscawen said he accepted the result, and would remain a member of the party, and sincerely wished Dr Whyte and Mr Seymour every success.

Dr Whyte said he would spend the next month gearing up for his first party conference as leader, policy work, fundraising "and revving up the members".

He said his previous writing promoting the legalisation of drugs, for example, had been of greater concern to Mr Boscawen than to the board.

It would not become party policy.

The office of Prime Minister John Key last night issued a brief statement saying: "The Prime Minister congratulates Jamie on his selection and looks forward to working with him. He wishes him and Act well for the 2014 election."

Today on TVNZ's Breakfast programme, Mr Key said it was obvious the party had gone for a "generational change" in voting in Mr Whyte.

He said it was "interesting" the president and candidate roles had been split.

"You can see the pluses and minuses of that but in the end you know, they'll have to go out and do what every party's going to do come election day and that's trying to maximise your vote."

While he said he had already indicated that Act was a party National could work with if they were voted into Government again after this year's general election, it would be nearer to the election before he would indicate how he could work with any possible coalition partner.

Mr Cunliffe said it was ironic that a party that had been "dismissive of academics in Parliament had chosen two academics as their leader and candidate". Referring to Dr Whyte's advocacy of legalisation of drugs and getting rid of all labour laws, Mr Cunliffe said "that would put him in the realm of Colin Craig and show that Mr Key really is desperate for coalition partners".

- Audrey Young of the New Zealand Herald

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