Roy leaves her garden to sow seeds of trouble, while Hide kicks-off Election 2011

Heather Roy's return to parliament this week was a bit rich – Katherine Rich, that is. By following the former National MP's example, Roy has bought herself some time, but is it borrowed? And will the right-wing parties can together or divide?

If you front up, they can't stab you in the back. That seems to be the theory Heather Roy has decided to go with this week, as she returned to parliament talking about her commitment to the party and her appetite for hard work.

And so far, it's worked a treat.

It's over a week now since Roy, most notably the former associate defence minister, was dumped from the deputy leadership of ACT, in a 3-2 vote, and sent home to think about her future (read: write her resignation letter). Every indication was that her leader, Rodney Hide, wanted shot of her, as he started to paint a picture of Roy as nice, but easily influenced and not quite up to the job.

"I think she got off track as a minister," Hide said, even though PM John Key and Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said they didn't have any concerns about her performance.

"Heather's been a very good person and I think she's been poorly advised," Hide continued last week. Then, this week, he went on TVNZ's Breakfast to say that she was "a very good MP" and that he wanted her back on the team, but that he also "feared" she was going to become an embarrassment to the government.

He followed that up with a speech to the rotary club of Epsom, his version of events being: Roy lost confidence of caucus... Hide stayed mum to protect her and held out the olive branch... She accepted, but then came the revelation of the leaked document, tsk, tsk...

The implication seemed to be that for all his efforts, things just weren't working out.

From her garden, where it seems she was quickly becoming bored, Roy figured that another week of those shennanigans and she'd be utterly damned by all this faint praise. So she packed her bag and went back to work, pointedly not telling anyone in her party, except Sir Roger Douglas (and isn't it interesting he didn't tell his leader?).

Her return has echoes of Katherine Rich's performance in 2005, when Don Brash stripped her of National's social welfare portfolio and demoted her from fourth to 10th on the party's rankings. (Although Rich's scrap was over crucial policy, and Roy's more to do with leadership and ego).

Brash had used his second Orewa speech to raise the prospect of putting limits on the dole, forcing DPB mums back into work and cutting off payments to mothers who made a "lifestyle choice" to stay on the DPB.

Rich politely said the speech raised some, er, interesting questions, but couldn't endorse it. That cost her the welfare portfolio.

But rather than slink off, she stayed in parliament, went to question time and spoke of her loyalty to the party and its leader. It was the politic thing to do.

By following that example, Roy has outfoxed Hide and bought herself some time.

Who knows how ACT may twist and lurch in the coming months? And after all, she has the support of the party's heart and soul, Sir Roger Douglas, as a weapon in her armoury.

But it all resolves nothing, only delaying the end-game by a matter of months.

The future still ain't bright for Roy, or ACT. Her list place has to be dealt with, so while she pretends the party has moved on and mouths platitudes about unity that not a single voter believes, Hide will presumably be looking for ways to push her down and out in the future.

All the while, ACT has to train its attentions on Epsom. Hide's Rotary speech was interesting in that it was, in the middle year of an election cycle, a full-blown campaign speech. He said:

And we will keep pushing and prodding the government to deal with issues now, not leave them to the future.

But while doing that, the Prime Minister has my absolute assurance that his government will not have to worry about confidence and supply.

Nor will he have to worry about ACT support for any of the many policy changes that you would expect from a centre-right Party, but which would not be supported by the Maori Party.

Because without ACT, National would be stalled, dependent on getting Maori Party support for any change it needed to make, and thus be able to make very little useful change.

That is why we need the ACT Party in parliament.  And that is why I have no doubt that we will continue to see ACT well represented, better represented, in parliament in the future.

All of which is a very clear plea to a right-wing electorate to think strategically, and keep ACT in parliament for National's sake. It's pathetic, but it's realistic.

The question is whether National will see it that way. Will the right hang together? Many in the party think of Remuera as "their" seat, many don't like to give away seats, even under MMP. With Richard Worth in place and safe with a list seat, the party could wink to the Remmers Tories and whisper that they had a National MP of their own anyway.

Not so now. Are they willing to go through a full nomination process only to stand a dud? Will they do a 'Mark Thomas' to some poor sap? Or will they, as has been rumoured earlier in the year, turn to the wealth, local knowledge, ethnic appeal and political skills of Aaron Bhatnagar?

With Key's backing, Bhatnagar could destory Hide and ACT in one fell swoop. So National will be asking itself, has ACT served its purpose? It can yet be blamed for the Super City next year, but it has already been used as cover for three strikes, 90 days and the like. Maybe National will have had enough.

Yet history tells us that when National seeks to embrace the further right of the electorate, it gets itself into trouble; it could open doors for Labour in the centre and New Zealand First around the fringes. So maybe not.

For now, ACT is hoping that they can lock up these miserable few weeks and shove them to the back of the closet. It's some hope. This, my friends, is far from over.