If recent reports are to be believed, the PM is going to call an early election. In fact, we could be less than 250 days away from a new Government. Or at least a new-look Government.
According to the NZ Herald “Sources say Key wants to hold the election before November’s G20 leaders’ meeting in Brisbane and Apec Summit in Beijing. He will also want to avoid clashing with home All Black games in August and early September, the final Bledisloe Cup test on October 18, and Labour Weekend, the final weekend of October. Pundits are betting on September 27 or one of the first two Saturdays in October.” Labour leader David Cunliffe said: “I wouldn’t rule out that National will go considerably earlier than that if they feel desperate.” If you ask me, the PM will want to shamelessly cash in on the Royal visit in April so I wouldn’t be surprised if he sent the country to the polls as early as protocol allows: in July. Why wait? After all, campaigns are all about shaking hands and kissing babies and if you get a chance to kick things off with shaking a royal hand and kissing a royal baby, you’d be a mug to miss it. And the PM is no mug. When things look tight, as they do, a royal seal of approval could make all the difference. So why wait?
National already seems to be working to a tight timeframe, ‘refurbishing’ faces and contemplating coalition partners. Nearly 10% of its existing MPs have already jumped (or been pushed) into the political afterlife, making way for fresh meat. Gone with the wind are Katrina Shanks, John Hayes, Colin King, Cam Calder, Paul Hutchison, Chris Tremain, Chris Auchinvole, Phil Heatley, Kate Wilkson, Lindsay Tisch and Eric Roy. As might be expected, the new blood is infused with blue blood.
As Vernon Small reports in the NZ Herald, John Hayes ‘decision’ (ahem) to step aside in Wairarapa “opens the way for multimillionaire investment banker Alastair Scott, Mr Scott is a former Credit Suisse First Boston managing director, who owns the Matahiwi Estate winery near Masterton. He first indicated his interest in the seat before the 2011 election, but Mr Hayes refused to step aside then.” For 2014, it would seem it was an offer poor John could not refuse. “Party insiders have drawn parallels between Mr Scott and leader John Key, who was head-hunted for National after a successful career in international finance. Mr Scott returned to New Zealand in 1997 after a stint as a top manager at Credit Suisse in London and Tokyo, where he said he was responsible for trading “derivative products in the Asian time zones”. A trader of “derivative products in the Asian time zones”? Hmmm. If I were Judith Collins or Simon Bridges, I’d be very, very wary of such a parallel man for he might harbour parallel ambitions. But that’s a rumour for another day.
High-fliers and Asian-time-zone-derivative-traders aside, National still needs at least one viable coalition partner to win. Recently-outed ‘knuckle-flicker’ Colin Craig can certainly generate headlines but not necessarily of the sort that wins lots of votes. Commenting on its own headline, the NZ Herald states that “Headlines such as “Colin Craig: I smack my kids” might not entice National to get too close to him. His comments may be naive rather than accurate. He thinks the politically safe answer to make when asked a silly question, such as whether he believes the moon landings were faked, is to say he is not sure. But that sort of naivety can be crucified in an election campaign. He will make it even more difficult for National to help him if naivety traps him in non-negotiable positions. He is reported to have made the repeal of the anti-smacking law a condition of his support. He needs to be careful to go no further. If he is drawn to describe exactly what forms of physical discipline he wants the law to permit he could find himself in a lonely place on the political stage.” We can only hope that Colin refrains from more specificity with regard to his views on physical discipline.
Speaking of discipline, the Herald on Sunday editorialises that “voters in Epsom have been urged to use their electorate vote “strategically” to give the centre-right at least one more seat than it strictly deserves. The polls are finally balanced between National and a possible Labour-led coalition, so National is anxious to repeat this rort in Epsom and maybe in a few other seats. It is so anxious that, as we disclosed last Sunday, campaign manager Steven Joyce sounded out Rodney Hide about standing for Epsom again.” Sadly for Steven, like Michelle Boag and Matthew Hooten, Rodney said no. But have no fear. “It never pays to write off an astute political party on the grounds that its nominal leader and sole MP has been discredited, it languishes near zero in opinion polls and lacks any visible life.” writes the Herald’s John Roughan. “The residents of that rich blue seat consisting of Parnell, Remuera, Epsom and Mt Eden have given their electorate vote to Act at successive elections now, not because they particularly admired Rodney Hide or had high hopes for the second coming of John Banks.” They voted Act, rorts and all, so National could win.
Towards which, like the Republicans in The Simpsons, the great and the good behind Act recently gathered at squillionaire Alan Gibbs’ country estate to nominate its next dose of Epsom salts. In the Herald, Adam Bennett reports it’s a three-way race: “Act President and former MP John Boscawen says he will seek the party’s nomination to stand in Epsom at this year’s general election, and is also seeking to become party leader.”We must rebuild our previous support and parliamentary representation and I believe that I am the best person to lead the party into the 2014 election,” Mr Boscawen said in a statement. Along with Mr Boscawen former philosophy lecturer and currency trader Jamie Whyte has confirmed he will seek the Epsom nomination and leadership while former John Banks staffer David Seymour has confirmed he will seek the Epsom nomination as well.”
In the Sunday Star-Times, Whyte positions himself as the ” brave but long-term choice. The party, he says, needs rebranding, “somewhat, well, a lot actually”. While he may now be the leadership outsider, he says he’s the one capable of leading that long-term reinvigoration back to the heady days of nine parliamentary seats; he fears they have been seen by too many as “mean-spirited”. To reach that target of a 5 per cent vote share, they must communicate their ideas better, although he admits they are still not chasing the popular vote; ACT voters, he says, are clever, “not typical people on the whole, a little bit more thoughtful, more interested in ideas”. The initial target, however, is two seats (which would require a constituency victory in Epsom and at least 1.5 per cent of the overall party vote). They would be “seriously f . . ed up” if they can’t achieve that.”
Seriously f . . ed up indeed!