Winston Peters lights the NZ First 30th birthday candle at the party's convention in July. To his left is party president, Julian Paul; party secretary Holly Howard and deputy leader, Shane Jones.

National leader Christopher Luxon yesterday morning conceded it and last night’s Newshub poll confirmed it; Winston Peters and NZ First are not only back but highly likely to be part of the next government.

It is a remarkable comeback for a party that was tossed out of Parliament in 2020 with only 2.6 per cent of the vote.

What is even more remarkable about the comeback is that it has been financed by the kind of rich listers that Peters campaigned against when he set the party up in 1993.

Rich lister money appears to have wanted National leader Christopher Luxon to concede that he might need NZ First to form a government.

This year, NZ First has received at least $465,000 from wealthy donors; many are also donors to National and ACT.

They have voted with their money for a three-way centre-right government.

Until yesterday, National Leader Christopher Luxon was unwilling to go along with that.

He would not concede that National and ACT might not get sufficient votes to form what he says is his preference, a National ACT coalition.

But that changed yesterday morning.

He put out a video on social media in which he said: “If New Zealand First is returned to Parliament, and I need to pick up the phone to Mr Peters to keep Labour and the Coalition of Chaos out, I will make that call.

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“Frankly, I think Chris Hipkins will ultimately do exactly the same thing. 

“That’s not my first preference. We all remember 2017. New Zealand First hasn’t gone with National in 27 years – and could choose Labour again.

“But that decision is ultimately up to you.”

That message was reinforced last night with an email from campaign chair Chris Bishop to party members in the wake of a Newshub poll showing National and ACT together would get only 60 seats, not enough to have a majority.

“This morning, Christopher Luxon made his preference clear for a strong, stable National-ACT government that gets our economy working for all New Zealanders,” he said.

“But on this poll, that coalition would only reach 60 seats.

“That is one seat short of changing the government.

“The message from these numbers is very clear: we need as many people as possible to party vote National to get our country back on track.”

The message sought donations of up to $150 from party members, but that is a small change alongside the big money that has flowed in since the beginning of last year.

The party has received $1.6 million this year alone in donations over $20,000, according to Electoral Commission records.

Some of those donors have also given to ACT and NZ First.

The most notable double donor is the country’s richest person, Graeme Hart, who this year has donated $100,000 to NZ First and last year donated $400,000 to National and $200,000 to ACT.

Other double donors include property investor Mark Wyborn ($200,000) and a number of smaller donors who have links to National.

POLITIK understands that some of those big donors have been in the background all year, sending subtle messages to both National and NZ First that they needed to work together.

It may be that those messages became more urgent after what one source familiar with some of the discussions called the “recklessness” of ACT leader David Seymour when he effectively threatened to veto any legislation proposed by National that ACT didn’t like. That had the potential to pitch a potential National-led government into a snap election at any time.

POLITIK understands that there is also a belief that NZ First, with Winston Peters and Shane Jones, might be better equipped to handle a winding back of what Jones has called a “mentality of victimhood” inspired among Maori by the Treaty.

As a measure of NZ First’s intention to appear as a serious player in the debate about Maori issues, it will be Te Reo-fluent Jones rather than Peters who fronts tonight’s TVOne debate featuring Maori Development Minister, Willie Jackson; Maori Party President John Tamihere; National Party Maori Development spokesperson, Tama Potaka and Greens co-leader, Marama Davidson.

Last night’s Newshub poll had NZ First at only 5.2 per cent, barely over 5 per cent and within the margin of error.

But under the complex mathematics that is used to calculate MMP seats, the higher the wasted vote of the minnow parties, the more the percentages of parties eligible for seats get boosted.

Thus, the poll’s 5.2 per cent for New Zealand First would become 5.4 per cent if four per cent of the votes were wasted, as was the case in last night’s poll.

On that basis, it looks as though NZ First is set to make it back, and looking at the poll overall, it looks like it is needed to form a national-led government.

The poll results would bring in seven NZ First MPs: Winston Peters, Shane Jones, Casey Costello, Mark Patterson, Jenny Marcroft, Jamie Arbuckle and Andy Foster.

They would join a National-ACT government.

This is a much more experienced list than we have seen from NZ First in the past.

Peters and Jones are former Ministers, and Patterson and Marcroft are former MPs. Costello, a retired Detective Sergeant, was not only deputy chair of Hobson’s Pledge but also on the board of the Taxpayers’ Union and Arbuckle and Foster both have extensive local body experience.

Last night, NZ First was also emailing supporters about the poll and asking for donations.

“We don’t just need a change in Government; we need a better one to take its place,” the mail said.

“New Zealand could risk having the most woke, virtue-signalling government with extreme tax policies, or, on the other extreme, one with no experience that will sell off our country and put foreign interests ahead of ours.

“We need to push harder.

“We’ve already ruled out working with Labour and any party that promotes racist separatism.

“This election hangs on a thread. Our country needs us to maintain balance, bring experience, and promote common sense.”

That common sense starts with their tax policy, but as is so often the case with Peters and NZ First, there is a catch.

Their website says NZ First would ensure tax income brackets were adjusted to inflation.

But last week, speaking to reporters after a rally in Paraparaumu, Peters said that could not be done in the coming three years while getting the economy “turned around”.

“You’ve got to take stock. If you’re out at sea, and the wind turns bad, and the tide turns bad, you’ve got to reset your compass, so to speak, to get out of it,” he said.

But at its annual convention in July, the party highlighted three policy areas: the Treaty of Waitangi and co-governance, gangs and Pharmac.

They wanted gangs declared terrorist organisations and a gang members-only prison.

Last week, Peters told “Te Ao with Moana” on Whakaata Maori that reform of Pharmac should include an additional $1.3 billion in funding.

Jones has spoken and written extensively about the Treaty.

“Bro, it’s time to put the K back in Iwi,” he told the party convention.

“We are all Kiwis.

“As someone who grew up learning our Maori language from my grandmother, born in 1892, we were reared to celebrate all of our whakapapa, be it Croatian, European or Maori; there was no tolerance for accentuating one part of your being to demonise another part of your being.” 

Jones was critical of the way the Treaty was being used to solve modern-day issues.

“Like it or not, it was New Zealand First, in particular, Winston, who always forced, always attacked the notion that you cannot use the Treaty of Waitangi served up in 1840 as a modern-day recipe to reorder, re-empower and reorientate whanau Maori,” he said.

 “I’m sick of that mentality of victimhood.”

Peters made it clear to Moana Maniapoto on her show that he saw Maoridom’s greatest immediate needs as economic.

“We face the next ten years of deficits, and the people who are going to lose the most are not the squeezed middle; they’re the people at the bottom,” he said.

“And how many of them are going to be Maori?

“And they argue about these rights when I want for Maori affordable, safe homes;  I want them to get health treatment if they should ever need it, and I want them to get on the escalator of education, go as far as I was able to do one time because I was lucky enough.

“And I want them on first-world wages. That’s what I want.”

Despite Luxon’s obvious reservations, that should not be too difficult an agenda for National to agree to.

Even the big-money donors might agree.