Media stunt bungle helps propel NZ First
Friday 18 Nov 2011 12:48 p.m.
By Peter Wilson, Political Writer
New Zealand First is within striking distance of getting back into Parliament, probably largely because of a National Party media stunt that went wrong.
Leader Winston Peters knows what's in the "teapot tape" and he's drip-feeding the information.
He's getting media oxygen, a lot of it, and he's using it to attack the government and raise his party's profile.
Mr Peters is the last person Prime Minister John Key wants to see in Parliament.
Before the 2008 election he vowed he wouldn't work with Mr Peters after it, saying he turned politics into a soap opera, and holds the same position now.
NZ First just failed to make the 5 percent threshold, and party leaders were convinced it was Mr Key's decision to shun them that cost it those vital votes.
Mr Peters hasn't forgotten.
Since the teapot tape scandal broke at the beginning of the week, NZ First has climbed steadily in the polls and a survey published on Friday puts it at 4.9 percent.
National has lost control of its campaign agenda.
A steady stream of policy announcements confidently fronted by Mr Key has turned into uncomfortable confrontations with the reporters obsessed with the covert recording of his meeting with ACT's Epsom candidate John Banks.
Mr Key refuses to answer their questions and has twice walked out of press conferences.
But this potentially damaging turn of events hasn't seeped into the polls to a significant extent.
National has lost ground in some surveys, but not very much, and in nearly all of them the party is still over 50 percent with enough support to govern alone.
NZ Newswire's average of all the polls published since the campaign began shows National at 52.8 percent.
Labour has dropped slightly to 28.5 percent, it hasn't gained anything from the teapot tape scandal and it's still losing votes to the Greens who have reached 13 percent in some polls.
On those figures, National would have about 66 seats in the 120-member Parliament, Labour about 34 and the Greens up to 16.
None of the other small parties are making headway, starved of votes and media attention.
ACT is in a dreadful situation as it struggles with Mr Peters' revelations about plans to dump Don Brash from the leadership and polls that show John Banks isn't going to win Epsom.
The party has slumped to below 1 percent in some polls and Epsom voters seem to have had enough of National's stage-managed vote-rigging.
The tea party was intended to persuade them that Mr Key backed Mr Banks, and wanted them to vote for him so ACT could stay alive and support National in parliament.
It went horribly wrong and polls show National's own candidate, Paul Goldsmith, is well ahead of Mr Banks.
If Mr Banks loses, ACT will be history and National's only confirmed partner would be United Future leader Peter Dunne - if he retains Ohariu, which is in doubt because he's running just about even with Labour's Charles Chauvel.
The Maori Party, expected to return at least three MPs, signed a support agreement with the government in the last parliament and is likely to do the same again.
But the party is keeping its options open and says it will consult its supporters before making any decisions.
It did that after the 2008 election, and had no difficulty persuading them it would be better to join the government and get some of its initiatives implemented rather than sit on the cross benches and have no influence at all.
Mr Peters says he won't have anything to do with either of the main parties if he gets back.
The big picture means National won't be in a secure position to form a government unless it wins a majority on its own, or comes so close it needs just two or three seats to climb over the barrier.
NZ Newswire understands National's own polling, which has been intense, shows it has enough support to win a majority without any need for support parties.
But a week is a long time in politics.