Key has 'cup of tea' with Banks in Epsom
UPDATED: Prime Minister John Key has endorsed ACT's Epsom candidate John Banks.
Mr Key cited the 2005 and 2008 victories for ACT candidate Rodney Hide in Epsom, despite National carrying the party vote in the electorate, and said he was "not unhappy" if such a result occured again.
"If they [voters] wanted to do that in 2011, we would be very happy with that," he told a large media contingent.
Mr Key said the relationship with ACT had been constructive over the past year and he hoped to repeat the process following the November 26 election.
"What we are clearly saying is we are not unhappy to work with ACT again," Mr Key said.
He took pains not to make a direct endorsement.
"I don't tell my wife how to vote so I won't be telling New Zealand how to vote. What I do is try to put up the proposition," Mr Key said.
After the meeting, Mr Banks described his tea with the Prime Minister as "wonderful".
"I've got to convince the people of Epsom, not withstanding the wonderful cup of tea with the Prime Minister, that I'm right for this job," he said.
Asked if he would have lost the race without Mr Key's endorsement. Mr Banks said "I was giving it my best shot, I think I could have got it across the line."
"I know that ACT will bring in three, four or five more MPs."
UPDATED: The meeting between Prime Minister John Key and ACT's Epsom candidate John Banks is underway in Auckland.
The men met on the pavement, shook hands and went into a cafe on Auckland's Khyber Pass.
Prime Minister John Key is to meet Act's Epsom candidate John Banks this afternoon for a cup of tea.
The question is, does that signal that a deal has been done between the government and the Act Party?
The two men are due to meet in Newmarket mid-afternoon for a cuppa although neither Act or the government are saying publicly whether the meeting signals that the two are prepared to work together to ensure Mr Banks wins the seat, and so return Act to Parliament.
An NBR-UMR poll of the Epsom electorate last month showed that National's Paul Goldsmith was in line to win the electorate easily.
That would see Act kicked out of Parliament as its current polling of around 1% is nowhere near the 5% threshold needed to be returned, should it not win an electorate seat.
The poll showed that if Mr Key indicated he wanted Act to win Epsom, then John Banks would attract 42.5% of the vote, compared with Mr Goldsmith on 24.8%.
However, if there was no endorsement by Mr Key, then the poll showed Mr Goldsmith would win 41.9% of the vote, with Mr Banks back on 28%.
That would leave Act in a political wasteland and remove a potential coalition partner, should it need one.