Can Shane Jones win Northland and save New Zealand First?

Shane Jones has a good chance of winning Northland, a political commentator has claimed - and he'd better, for the sake of his party. 

New Zealand First traditionally struggles in the polls between elections, but usually manages to bounce back and reach the 5 percent threshold for getting into Parliament without winning an electorate. 

But the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll had the party on 2.7 percent - low even by their standards.

Jones announced on Saturday he'd contest the Northland electorate, which party leader Winston Peters won in a 2015 by-election, but narrowly lost in 2017 to National's Matt King. 

"I will deliver an exciting policy vision for Northland - my home, with passion," said Jones.

Political commentator Grant Duncan believes Jones is in with a good chance, with National sliding in the polls. 

"Winston Peters was defeated by the National candidate at the last election by 1389 votes, so it would very much depend on what Labour Party supporters decide to do," he told Newshub.

Between them Peters and Labour's Willow-Jean Prime got 56 percent of the vote in 2017, to King's 38 percent. Prime was ranked 17th on Labour's list in 2017, so would coast back into Parliament on current polling whether she won the electorate or not. 

Labour, sitting pretty in the 50s according to the latest polls and within reach of governing alone, says it has no plans to cut a deal to help Jones win. 

Shane Jones.
Shane Jones. Photo credit: Newshub.

Duncan thinks Jones is the party's best bet for making it back into Parliament. 

"It's looking like New Zealand First won't get over the 5 percent party vote threshold - so they need to absolutely need to be aiming to win at least one electorate." 

Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister, has publicly disagreed with some of the Government's handling of the coronavirus lockdown. Duncan said with an election only a few months away, it's smart politics from the veteran, who might once again hold the balance of power after the votes are counted - particularly if he manages to swipe a few voters from National. 

"Potential New Zealand First voters will want to know that New Zealand First isn't turning into a Labour Party lapdog." 

Peters, a former National MP, has sided with Labour the past two times his party's had a chance to pick the next Government - but went with National in the 1990s after New Zealand's first MMP election. 

Federated Farmers Northland president John Blackwell says there is a need for change in the region.

"Dargaville's had a few propositions where there was a sawmill that may have been built, but there wasn't a good-enough water system to support it. Those are the sorts of things we miss out." 

Jones has named improving water storage as one of his top priorities, if elected.

"I have a strong and determined team up here. We look forward to telling our story of continued Government investment into rail, water storage, roads, digital connectivity, tourism and health after nine years of neglect by the last National Government."

Blackwell says it could open up new opportunities.

"We are really hamstrung by water - not just [farmers] but horticulture and our elite soils in Northland, they could be opened up to all sorts of different uses if we had a good water system... Without a good supply of water - and electricity as well - we can't attract industry into this area. 

"State Highway 1 up here - as minister Shane Jones has pointed out - is more like a goat track. Those are some of the things in Northland that really need to be shaken up." 

National deputy leader Nikki Kaye on Saturday said the party's position remains not to deal with New Zealand First. Its only other likely possible coalition partner ACT is looking likely to increase the number of MPs it brings into the house from one to two or possibly three, based on recent polling - still not enough for the right to form a Government at this stage however, with National struggling on about 30 percent.

New National eader Todd Muller has left the door open to a possible deal with Peters, but for now the "position is very clear".