24 Jul 11
Deals being done in high-profile seats such as Ohariu and Epsom will be critical to the next government, the Sunday Star Times reports.
Ohariu, in Wellington, is held by United Future's Peter Dunne, while Epsom, in Auckland, is being vacated by Act's Rodney Hide and will be contested by former Auckland mayor John Banks, the newspaper says in commnt on the latest HorizonPoll showing potential colaitions less than 1% apart, despite a 10.2% National lead over Labour.
The Sunday Star Times says: National wants Dunne returned in Ohariu and when its candidate Katrina Shanks said during the week that she would fight hard to win the seat, a government source said she had been "pulled into line" by the leadership.
In Epsom, there has been widespread disquiet among National members, who agitated for a strong candidate to stand after former Act leader Hide quit, and last week Paul Goldsmith was confirmed as the party's candidate. He has strong ties to Banks, and to Act's current leader, Don Brash, having penned biographies on both men.
Key said in April that his party would take a similar line in Ohariu and Epsom, an indication National would focus on the party vote, and send a message to supporters to vote strategically for the minor party's candidate.
Shanks had said it was not up to her to make a deal with Dunne, and that she would run a strong local campaign, but shortly after that party president Peter Goodfellow said National would run a strong party-vote campaign.
Dunne, whose critics say he is largely ineffectual in Parliament, said National's approach was consistent and made sense if voters wanted a strong, second-term National-led government.
The Greens and Labour have responded with an Ohariu deal of their own. Green Party candidate Gareth Hughes says he will campaign for the party vote and encourage his supporters to vote for Labour's Charles Chauvel, who labelled Dunne a National yes-man. United Future claims its polling has Dunne well ahead, a claim Labour makes for Chauvel.
If things are unclear in Ohariu they are even odder in Epsom, where National needs Act to win, while Labour and the Greens need National to win to end Act's presence in Parliament.
Under MMP, parties that win an electorate don't have to pass the 5% threshold to get MPs into parliament. At the last election Act got five seats with only 3.65% of the vote, but polling shows that if it loses in Epsom this year it will be gone.
Labour and the Greens could send Goldsmith to Wellington even though his party doesn't want him.
Greens candidate David Hay said it was a "very odd thing in Epsom".
"National has a candidate it doesn't want [Goldsmith], to support a candidate it doesn't want [Banks], to get someone else in that voters wouldn't vote for [Brash]."
Labour appears likely to put up capital gains tax architect David Parker when nominations close at the end of the month but realistically he is no hope in Epsom, where Hide won a 13,000-odd majority in 2008 in an electorate where the right-wing voters understand tactical voting.
Sunday Star-Times political columnist John Hartevelt said the deals were understandable but were also the "kind of stuff that makes voters sniffy about MMP". He said such accommodations could appear anti-democratic, and in the case of Ohariu the "stitch-up is the smelliest".