UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne's campaign to be re-elected in Ohariu has been boosted by a blatant pitch from the Prime Minister for National supporters to give him their electorate vote.
John Key addressed about 80 UnitedFuture party faithful at its annual conference in Newlands, Wellington, yesterday. It was a significant coup for Mr Dunne, who admitted he had waited until election year to invite the prime minister after he spoke at the conferences of National's other support partners, ACT and the Maori Party, earlier in the parliamentary term.
Ohariu is expected to be tightly contested, with UnitedFuture and Labour each claiming their internal polling puts them ahead. National's list candidate, Katrina Shanks, was pulled into line by the party leadership last month after suggesting she would fight hard to win the seat.
The Greens will target only the party vote and the party has insisted its candidate, Gareth Hughes, has not done a deal with Labour.
Mr Dunne has ruled out working with a Labour-led government.
Labour's candidate in Ohariu, list MP Charles Chauvel, has attacked what he called the "unprincipled political deal" between National and UnitedFuture and taken aim at Mr Key's appearance at the conference.
"This appearance is simply a cynical attempt to cast a cloak of approval around Peter Dunne so that National voters can overcome their instinctive revulsion at the idea of voting for him," he said.
"But the last time that John Key told National voters in Ohariu to give Peter Dunne their electorate vote in 2008 over 9000 of them defied him because they could not bring themselves to vote for someone who doesn't actually stand for anything."
Mr Chauvel said UnitedFuture had only "minimal" support. The party registered less than 1 per cent in the Fairfax Media-Research International poll.
"According to opinion polls, many more New Zealanders believe that Elvis Presley is still alive than are likely to vote for UnitedFuture in three months' time."
Mr Dunne dismissed the comments, saying Mr Chauvel had used the Elvis reference before. "I think that's some figment of desperation."
Voters had a choice on election day and indicating a preference was no different from the Greens chasing only the party vote, he said.
Mr Key told the conference National would be emphasising it needed strong support if it was to form another coalition government.
Afterwards, he said that if National was in a position to form a government after the election, it would still be contacting its three support partners, even if it had enough votes to govern alone.
"We are definitely going to make a phone call to these support partners and sit down and have a discussion with them. What happens from there, we'll see how it goes."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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