Both National and ACT are starting to back off some of their hardline positions on tax and spending.

And finally, National leader Christopher Luxon has softened his stance on doing a deal with Winston Peters and NZ First.

Their moves are subtle and wrapped up in sound-byte-friendly media standup language, but they are there nonetheless.

Most notable is what now seems to be the beginnings of an admission from leader Christopher Luxon that National could include NZ First in any government it might form.

Luxon was pressed yet again at a media standup yesterday in Auckland about any potential relationship with NZ First.

His initial response was an echo of every other time he has answered questions about the relationship with NZ First; he was focused on maximising the National Party vote and ensuring people understood what was at risk this election.

“If they want strong economic management they need to party vote National to get a guaranteed change of government.”

But then, pressed further as to whether he would make an announcement on NZ First before the election, he said: “I have to make a government work on the other side of the election. I have to do so … we have to put a coalition together.”.

There are other signs that National must now be taking NZ First seriously.

On Friday, New Zealand’s richest person, Graeme Hart, through his company, the Rank Group, gave $150,000 to National and $100,000 to NZ First.

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That would seem to send a pretty clear signal to Luxon that the “top end of town” wants to see NZ First in any government he might form.

And what was also notable about Hart’s donations was that he gave nothing to ACT and has not donated anything to them this year.

Asked about this, Seymour said Hart had donated to ACT in the past.

“I guess I’d say that he’s free to give money to whomever he wants, but I’d be a bit worried that the last hundred thousand sounds like a wasted vote,” he said.

But Seymour himself is also moderating some of his positions from last week, presumably to make ACT more acceptable to National in what might be a contest to be the second party in a National-led government.

Last week, he was implying ACT might not support National’s proposed tax cuts because he was talking about revising ACT’s proposal for tax cuts.

“We are going to have to make sure that we can put forward a responsible alternative plan, and that may involve changing the tax cuts we previously promoted,” he said.

National’s tax cuts depend on funding from a proposed foreign house buyers’ tax, which has been rubbished by economists, lawyers, property experts and tax experts from across the board.

On Sunday, Seymour seemed to modify his position on the tax.

“We believe that it would be better to actually allow foreign buyers and have the tax than not allow them at all,” he said.

Ironically, NZ First is taking a more cautious approach.

Asked about it last night, leader Winston Peters texted: “I can’t see how the policy works. The fiscals seem to be 500m out per annum or 2.1b over four years. Maybe if I could see their workings, I could give you a reply.”

Interestingly, Peters did not highlight the fact that the proposal would partly lift the ban on foreign property buyers, which his party in the past has been strongly supportive of.

Meanwhile, Luxon also appears to be trying to moderate the impressions that might have been left over recent weeks by his complaints that Labour has added 14000 “extra bureaucrats” since it took office in 2017 and now that waste needed to be cut.

Finance spokesperson Nicola Willis, at the ASB Great Economic Debate last week, talked up National’s proposed cuts to the public service and singled out the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, the Ministry of Social Development and the Department of Conservation for reductions.

She emphasised that National would set a 6.5 per cent target for savings from each department across the public service.

But, again, pressed by media yesterday as to how many jobs would be lost as a consequence of these cuts, Luxon offered a more moderate approach, and he didn’t talk about savings targets.

“What we want is more efficiency and better outcomes and better delivery from our public service,” he said.

“You cannot be in a position where Chris Hipkins was the minister of education for five and a half years, fired $5 billion extra in there for 1400 more public servants into the Ministry of Education and actually academic achievement and attendance has gone backwards.

“That is a unique and special skill.

“So I’m interested in outcomes.

“You can have a whole bunch of activity, you can have a whole bunch of people do a whole bunch of projects, but at the end of the day, we now have to stop the talking.

“We have to start doing it, delivering outcomes for New Zealanders because that’s what improves their daily lives.

“And I want a public service that is crystal clear to everybody. Walking into those offices this morning, I know what they are there to do.

“They’re not there to muck around out there to actually deliver better immunisation rights, shorter waitlist times for surgeries or for specialist appointments, and I want that across the whole of the public service. “

The change in tone from ACT is easier to understand.

They realise they now have competition from New Zealand First to be part of the next government.

Luxon’s moderation could be because he is a natural moderate anyway, or it could be because his polling tells him he needs to moderate if he wants to hold the centre, or it could be because he realises he is highly likely to be the next Prime Minister and he needs to start now acting like one.