“In the end, MMP is a system designed for political parties to do deals of one kind or another,” Prime Minister John Key said today.
That does not mean, he hastily added, that National has done a deal over the Epsom seat.
The future of that seat, held by Act Party leader Rodney Hide, is coming under increasing focus as the 2011 election date draws closer and the prospects for National’s support partners becomes more politically salient.
Anecdotally, National voters who were prepared to vote for Mr Hide last time around are now in revolt.
Act’s internal ructions, ex-MP David Garrett’s ignominious exit after it was found he used dead babies for fake IDs, and Mr Hide’s own run-ins with Parliamentary Services over travel allowances, have all hurt the ebullient Act leader.
National, though, needs a support partner that isn’t the Maori Party, which is facing highly combustible pressures of its own.
National’s message to its Epsom supporters looks likely to boil down to: “take a long anaesthetic swig of single malt, go down to the polling booth and vote for Hide.”
Mr Key wasn’t as unsubtle as that today but the election is six months away: now is the time to start getting Epsom Nats used to the idea that they may need to swallow hard and vote for Mr Hide.
Cuteness from the prime minister was the order of the day today.
“The primary emphasis will be on the party vote,” Mr Key said about eight times during a post-Cabinet to-ing and fro-ing with Parliament’s press gallery.
Asked bluntly whether he wants National to win Epsom, Mr Key ducked the question.
“I want National to win the election,” he said with a broad grin. “In the end the decision on whether to vote for Rodney Hide or the National candidate is entirely in the hands of the voters.”
As for whether the same message would be delivered in other electorates, Mr Key would only muse that every electorate is different.
Asked whether this was inconsistent, Mr Key looked thoughtful.
“Weeellll,” he mused in a long drawn-out syllable, “it's practical.”
And that sums up his message, delivered through nudges and winks, to Epsom National supporters: be practical unless you want a Labour government.
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