Jack Tame: Ruling out NZ First could help Luxon become PM

Christopher Luxon (file image).

You could almost sense Christopher Luxon’s almighty exhalation at the latest numbers from the 1News Kantar poll. After a tricky few weeks for the opposition, they show National and ACT in a position to form the next government.

It’s imprudent to place too much credence in any one poll, but the consistent trend across publicly available polls this year shows an extremely close contest between a Labour-led and a National-led government.

It seems increasingly unlikely the final result or the shape of New Zealand’s next government will be clear on election night itself. We may even be reliant on special vote tallies to know which party bloc has won a majority.

In a race this tight, every single seat counts. And although National is chuffed to have a nose ahead by the latest 1News Kantar numbers, in this scenario it only wins a comfortable majority because the Greens have scored so poorly.

From National and ACTs’ perspective, it’s not a scenario which cannot be confidently relied upon for election night itself.

But off the back of the 1News Kantar results, National and ACT’s strategists will be considering if there’s fertile ground for strengthening their collective position in the votes still being soaked up by New Zealand First.

Winston Peters’ party is the only party outside of Parliament to come close to the 5% party vote threshold in polls this year. But the vast majority of polls (including yesterday’s) have shown the party still well outside of Parliament, and its 3% or 4% party vote essentially wasted.

Those votes could be incredibly valuable for either of the Labour-led or National-led blocs.

But given Winston Peters’ relentless criticism of Labour (the party he appointed to government in 2017), it seems unlikely many remaining New Zealand First voters would support the party siding with Labour in any theoretical kingmaker negotiations.

And even by his standards, it would take some communicative sorcery for Winston Peters to somehow unpick all of his criticisms and support Labour again in government.

Party vote results for May 25 poll

So far, National has been deliberately non-committal about its current relationship with New Zealand First. In lieu of an Epsom-style electorate deal, Christopher Luxon has carefully side-stepped questions about whether he could work with Winston Peters.

But for his strategists the question is front of mind, as they weigh up whether it’s better to be onside with Winston Peters or to emphatically rule out a coalition or support agreement.

National Party Deputy Nicola Willis was a senior advisor to John Key when the former Prime Minister ruled out working with New Zealand First. What might happen if Christopher Luxon were to do the same in this election?

The message would have to be careful. Luxon would have to be respectful to Peters and deferential to New Zealand First voters, ruling out working with the party while simultaneously trying to win their support for the National-Act bloc.

It’s a delicate line to tread but consistent with National’s ‘stability’ message. Governments featuring Winston Peters have had a mixed record on stability. Would voters prefer the potential messiness of a three-or-four party Labour-led government? Or a simple coalition between National and ACT?

Seats in the house based on May 25 1News Kantar Public poll

No doubt Winston Peters would lash out. If handled poorly, it could backfire on National and win New Zealand First extra votes.

But alternatively, if executed well, New Zealand First could be left languishing with limited political currency. And if the party bleeds support, National and ACT are more likely to benefit than Labour, the Greens, or Te Pāti Māori.

For National’s strategists, the Winston question looms large: is it better to get closer, ignore him, or rule him out entirely?

Every option is a strategic gamble but the answer could ultimately decide the election.


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