The man in the middle
By Richard Harman (author)
The declaration by Prime Minister Bill English yesterday that New Zealand First would be an "unlikely" coalition partner after the election probably needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
He made the comments when announcing September 23 as election day.
Even NZ First Leader Winston Peters wasn’t going to get into a debate with English, telling POLITIK the election would be like none we had seen in the country’s recent history.
“Those sorts of comments are a waste of the public’s time,” he said.
“And I do not intend to give him the option of flexibility by remarking on them.”
What Peters isn’t saying but what is widely understood is that he now believes NZ First could get the second largest share of the vote after National, eclipsing both Labour and the Greens.
To do that he needs to win votes off National.
And one source close to National’s campaign planning suggested to POLITIK that that was what lay behind English’s comments.
What National was worried about was that soft National voters might begin to see NZ First as a credible option.
English’s opposition to NZ First might last up to election day but no longer.
And he hinted at that yesterday.
After he had said they were an unlikely partner, he added: “However I am prepared to have discussions with them post-election depending on the makeup of Parliament.”
He gave as the reason any deal would be unlikely the idea that National was an "outward looking" Government, open to investment and immigration "and New Zealand First are an inward-looking party who believe in a closed up New Zealand.”
And his only response when pressed by reporters yesterday as top whether Winston Peters could conceivably end up as deputy Prime Minister in the next Government, English would only say that he was not ruling anything in anything out.
Peters --- as usual --- would not answer any questions on how he might handle any post-lection negotiations.
“We are only concerned with maximising our vote; that is our only consideration.
“We are staying on message from start to finish.”
Meanwhile, English all but confirmed that National would stand aside in Epsom and Ohariu to allow David Seymour (ACT) and Peter Dunne (United Future) to win the seats which effectively gives the Government four seats since it wins the party vote in those seats.
Labour looks as though it will mount a strong challenge in Ohariu with the former Police Association President, Greg O’Connor seeking nomination for the seat.
“Epsom and OPhariu discussions are part of election year discussions from our point of view but I think you could expect that existing arrangements that have worked would continue to underpin a stable National led Government.”
English also confirmed that the Government wanted to have the Maori Party in the next Government.
He praised the stability they had brought to the present Government.
He sued the word stability consistently throughout his media conference --- and portrayed the Labour-Greens Opposition alliance as having moved Labour to the left.
“They are increasingly far left, inward looking and as we saw in their state of the nation speech have no policies or ideas and don’t back New Zealanders to succeed.”
And that sounded awfully like an election campaign opening speech.
But dealing with Labour and the Greens will be the easy bit --- preserving a delicate balance with NZ First by trying to stop National votes leaking out to them and the same time that English does not completely alienate Peters will be one of the big challenges this year.
For Peters, the task is much easier because he can attack everybody knowing that it won't matter. If he is needed to form a Government, all will be forgiven very quickly.