Winston Peters & East Coast Bays – National’s nightmare scenario

Back in June, I noted Matthew Hooton’s comment on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme that National were expecting an electorate deal with Colin Craig in East Coast Bays to cost them about 2% to 3% of the party vote. The Conservatives would therefore have to be polling 3% to 4% for an electorate deal to be worthwhile to National.

At the time, I presumed that Mr Hooton had seen some of National’s internal polling. Well, at the Conservatives’ party conference this weekend, Mr Hooton was a guest speaker, and confirmed exactly that:

He cited internal polls which predicted that National would lose 2 per cent of the party vote if it pulled Mr McCully from the East Coast Bays contest.

On this basis, he said Conservatives would need to be pulling at least 3 per cent for Mr Key to consider a deal.

Back in June, the Conservatives were sitting on just 1.4% in this site’s Poll of Polls. Fast forward almost a month, and they haven’t moved, still sitting on 1.4%, well below the point where National needs them to be.

It’s was a conundrum then for National, and it’s just gotten worse, with Winston Peters announcing at the NZ First conference that’s he’s considering standing in East Coast Bays himself if National pull Murray McCully.

The nightmare scenario for National is that the party pulls Murray McCully to give Colin Craig a free run, Winston Peters does indeed put his hat into the electorate’s ring, and that enough people hate Colin Craig and/or electorate deals to give Peters their protest vote. Peters wins East Coast Bays, the Conservatives’ party vote is wasted, and National is reliant on a truculent Peters to form a government.

From Peters’ point of view, it’s a publicity masterstroke. Right up until 26 August, when nominations close, he’ll be able to drop hints and dance around the issue, courting the attention and hogging the headlines.

Frankly, I’d be surprised though if he did stand in East Coast Bays. He’d have to devote too much attention to the electorate, which would impact on NZ First’s nation-wide party vote campaign. We had the same dance routine last election, when he “considered” standing in John Key’s Helensville electorate, which of course never transpired.

The problem for National is that there’s still that nagging possibility that Peters might just be serious. National knows Colin Craig isn’t popular – that’s the entire reason why they’d have to knife Murray McCully. If Peters did decide to stand in East Coast Bays, there’s a significant risk to National that he might just take the seat.

National will undoubtedly have already spent a lot of money polling the good people of East Coast Bays. They might now need to run a few additional polls with some rather different new questions…

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