The two main parties have two key conferences this weekend which in many ways will mark the beginning of the election campaign.
Labour’s Congress in Wellington will be a relatively formal affair with no room for any debate in any of its public sessions.
Instead, the party is aiming to highlight its leadership team in a series of keynote speeches.
National’s Auckland regional conference will meet against a background of both satisfaction with the direction of the economy but some concerns among some elements of the membership about two policies.
Most notably there are reports of widespread questions about the iwi participation clauses of the Resource Management Act.
POLITIK has learned that there is a proposal to bring a delegation of Auckland members to Wellington to meet Environment Minister Nick Smith to discuss the concerns.
There are also claims that some of the party’s top donors are threatening to divert their funding to New Zealand First because of the iwi participation clause.
But it will not only be the iwi participation moves that raise questions — but There could also be questions from some members about the backwards and forwards that has been going on over the new Foreign Minister’s stance on Israel.
It is known that there is some concern within the party and also the Caucus and Cabinet about New Zealand’s co-sponsorship of the anti-Israeli settlements resolution at the UN last December.
The new Minister, Gerry Brownlee, may have reflected that concern when he made his comments on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report calling the resolution “premature”.
But this week he was slapped down by Prime Minister Bill English who said he needed to learn to chose his words more carefully.
For all that, it is Prime Minister Bill English’s last real chance to set the scene before the Budget.
He will be in Japan and Hong Kong from May 16 – 20 with the Budget on May 25.
For Labour the challenge this weekend is more direct.
The party is still needing to establish Andrew Little in the public mind as a match for the Prime Minister.
He will be announcing new housing policy and yesterday unveiled a policy to pilot a scheme providing free mental health services at the GP level – a move which should draw a positive response judging by the reaction he has been getting to his complaints about the Governments under funding of mental health services.
But polling by Curia, the National Party pollsters, published in Whaleoil”s “Incite” magazine, shows the magnitude of the task he faces with the Prime Minister on 47% approval for the way he is doing his job and Little on only 21%.
The Willie Jackson candidacy continues to hang over his leadership.
POLITIK understands that it was Little’s own decision to appeal to the party’s List Moderating Committee to review Jackson’s list position even though the party rules are quite explicit that the Committee’s decisions may not be appealed.
What has been passed over in much of the commentary on this is while the the Committee rejected his appeal, it consisted of the party’s New Zealand Council plus three caucus representatives.
That is a serious rebuff to the Leader.
Add to that the confusion over Jackson’s charter school and Labour’s policy and Little’s interview on RNZ’s “Morning Report” and the party will be looking for a big performance from him this weekend.
However Little has been getting a good response from his provincial meetings.
The party’s organisation showed that it was finely tuned in both the Mt Albert and Mt Roskill by-elections, but it cannot seem to break through in the polls.
That may be because the areas where National is losing support are areas where NZ First rather than Labour are strong.
At least Labour and National have their concern about that (albeit for different reasons) in common.