Three polls yesterday suggested that If National is to form the next government, it will have to do a deal with both ACT and NZ First, and that will mean adopting a harder line on race relations and the Treaty of Waitangi.
The preference of National Leader Christopher Luxon that there be simply a National-ACT coalition looks highly unlikely.
None of the polls, the Guardian Essential poll, the One News Verian poll and the Newshub Reid Research poll, show National and ACT with enough support to form a government.
All of them show support for the combined centre-right vote, which has lost momentum and is falling or stalled.
That didn’t stop leader Christopher Luxon from emailing party members last night saying, “We have the momentum.”
What must worry National even more is that Labour now has a remote chance that it could form the next government.;
Incremental movements in support between now and Saturday could see the centre-left block edge ahead.
Labour’s Maori seats campaign chair Willie Jackson told Waatea news yesterday that the party was looking for a three to five per cent boost in the final week.
That would mean Labour, the Greens, and Te Paati Maori would be able to form a government.
Certainly, the wind is blowing in the centre left’s direction, and what only a week ago looked like a lay-down-misere for the centre-right is now a nail-biter.
Two random factors are in the mix for the remainder of the campaign.
Tomorrow night’s Leaders’ Debate on TVOne now assumes an importance it did not have even a few days ago.
Labour is disappointed that the Press debate between the two leaders did not go ahead because of Chris Hipklins’ Covid.
They may have banked too much on it, arguing that, forced to go into detail on policy questions, Luxon would flounder.
National grasped the opportunity that Hipkins’ Covid gave them to avoid it.
The party’s excuse that its leader’s schedule was full all week fell a little flat when it turned out his Monday night engagement was a short rally for party members at a Wellington function centre.
The other big random is turnout.
There seems to be little argument between the National and Labour campaigns that there is a big soft, uncommitted vote which has not advance-voted and which, if it did vote, would make a difference.
That is highly relevant for Labour. It is mostly their supporters who are, in the jargon of the campaign teams, “soft”.
So that is where their effort is going.
Party officials say their supporters have made contact either by phone or door-knocking with 60,000 people in the last week.
What seems to have made the biggest difference to the decline in the centre-right vote has been the slump in ACT’s support.
Since the middle of last month, the Guardian Essential poll shows them down 2.4 per cent and One News Verian down three per cent. One News Verian shows no change.
Meanwhile, New Zealand First is up by an average of 1.6 per cent.
That shift is highly likely to be people concerned about race relations and the so-called “Maorification” of New Zealand.
POLITIK has learned that early in 2017, the right-wing lobby group Hobson’s Pledge approached ACT to persuade them to join a campaign against the government over the way they believed the Treaty of Waitangi was being interpreted by the then government.
So Hobson’s Pledge went to New Zealand First, where they were welcomed by Winston Peters, who has long held conservative views on the Treaty of Waitangi.
The alliance between Hobson’s Pledge and NZ First was cemented with the selection of Hobson’s Pledge’s vice president, Casey Costello, as Number Three on their list and, ironically, as their candidate for Port Waikato.
Her speech to New Zealand First’s convention in July was highly critical of National of its signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of its replacement for the Foreshore and Seabed legislation and its inclusion of iwi participation clauses in the Resource Management Law reform of 2017.
“What is clear to me now is that the three years of the absence of New Zealand First has seen enormous harm to race relations in this country,” she told the conference and then announced that she would be a candidate.
ACT has, in the meantime, developed its own hardline on race relations, wanting to put a statement on what the Treaty means, which would go back to before the 1987 Appeal Court judgement of Judge Robin Cooke, which said the Treaty of Waitangi established a partnership between Maori and the Crown.
That statement would then be put to a referendum.
ACT leader David Seymour said last weekend that policy would be at the top of his list in any coalition negotiation with National.
But add in the position likely to be taken by New Zealand First, and Luxon’s negotiating team will find themselves under intense pressure to move National’s race relations policy to the right.
Peters himself has predicated his whole rejection of Labour on his claim that he was never shown the He Puapua discussion document drawn up in response to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“I spent 43 years on the road talking about one country, one democracy, one people, and with that sort of racism and apartheid language, I’m never going to deal with them. Not this crowd,” he told POLITIK.
“I can think of people like Helen Clark who would understand what I’m talking about, but they don’t.”
The last thing Winston Peters will want in any government formation talks is any impression that ACT got more of its policies across the line.
And Peters is likely to make both Seymour and Luxon wait; his usual practice is to wait until the special votes have been counted before he will begin government formation negotiations.
Final results will not be declared until November 3 so that is when he might begin talks.
If Luxon and National make it on Saturday — and it is now “if” rather than “when” — they may come to realise their challenges are only about to start.