National is gunning for vulnerable Labour MPs in four seats in a move that could further rattle its opponent.
Hundreds of National Party faithful are gathered in Wellington this weekend for the party’s annual conference, where Prime Minister John Key will attempt to talk them down from a buoyant mood by warning that complacency could see National turfed from power.
With a string of polls showing National around 50 per cent, Key will warn them that voter turnout could be the decider and not to assume the election is a done deal.
‘‘I will reiterate the message that while National is doing very well in the polls in reality this is going to be a very tight election,’’ Key said yesterday.
‘‘This is a race to 61 seats and despite the fact Labour is polling very poorly it could still hold hands with the Greens and NZ First, potentially Internet-Mana, and form a government. So there is no room for complacency within National.’’
In a sign that National is taking nothing for granted sources say it has also targeted four Labour MPs in seats it thinks it can win – Trevor Mallard in Hutt South, Ruth Dyson in Port Hills, Damien O’Connor in West Coast and Iain Lees-Galloway in Palmerston North.
National’s strategy could disrupt Labour’s efforts to maximise the party vote, given that the survival of those MPs could hinge on them campaigning for the electorate vote instead to keep their political careers afloat.
Key will use his speech tomorrow to make the first of a series of policy announcements between now and the election campaign proper getting under way, when National is expected to start rolling out policy at the rate of one a day.
There has been speculation about it going into the campaign with a tax cut package but Key yesterday ruled out an early announcement, and signalled that it was proving a headache to design a package that was meaningful.
National has earmarked up to $500 million, either for extra spending or tax cuts tightly targeted at low income earners.
‘‘Tax cuts, if we had them, would have to be modest and firmly focused at the lower income end but there is not a lot of room to move and as someone who has been involved in tax cut programmes over a number of years I know how much it would cost to deliver something that a lot of New Zealanders would believe would be material,’’ Key said.
He refused to go into detail about tomorrow’s policy announcement but areas where National is vulnerable include housing, particularly initiatives targeted at first home buyers in the overheated housing market. It is also targeting education as a big election year focus so is likely to roll out further initiatives building on previous announcements on teacher pay.
Meanwhile, Key is sticking to his timetable of making a public announcement on who National will do deals with before the campaign proper gets under way.
He confirmed yesterday that East Coast Bays remained in play in a possible deal with Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and said National MP Murray McCully would stand aside if that was in National’s best interests.