Nats future bright while Key at helm

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 08:46 29/06/2014

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OPINION: The message is visually simple. Three boats: One blue, one red and one green. On the red and green boats, the rowing crew is in chaos as their crafts take a higgledy-piggledy route to the race finish.

The blue craft cuts smoothly through the centre, cruising to victory.

These were the scenes in a television election commercial, filmed for National on Waikato's Lake Karapiro recently.

To spell out the blinking obvious, National is in the blue boat, navigating the country safely through economic waters, choppy and calm. Labour are steering the red boat onto the rocks and the green one...well, you get the picture.

But there's a second message - beware voter complacency. National poo-bahs beat the faithful about the head with it yesterday.

With the party returning around 50 per cent in recent polls, Prime Minister John Key, campaign manager Steven Joyce and president Peter Goodfellow could have been forgiven for indulging in some rah-rah speeches.

Instead, Key gave annual conference delegates some gloomier numbers. Turnout fell by more than 6 percentage points in the 10 safest National seats, between the 2008 and 2011 elections. In the main opinion polls, the party is currently running 2 per cent behind where it was at this point in the 2011 campaign.

If supporters assume the result is a foregone conclusion, they won't bother trooping out to the polling booth.

Ever the managing director, Steven Joyce has set some KPIs: party vote targets for every electorate. Not just a percentage target, but hard numbers. "Party vote is the only vote that counts," he told delegates.

While it's party, party, party vote this election, National is looking ahead. It hopes to "lock down" parts of the country and deepen voter share by gunning for four Labour-held seats: Hutt South, Port Hills, West Coast Tasman and Palmerston North.

It echoes the strategy of capturing provincial electorates in 2005, which set National on the path to victory in 2008. A #teamkey social media hub has been established to appeal to the yoof.

Joyce proudly pointed out the Young Nats now have a larger on-campus presence than Young Labour at most universities.

Moody black and white memes take inspiration from Barack Obama's 2012 US presidential campaign. And there's a subtle rebrand - from the "Brighter Future" slogan to "Working for New Zealand".

The caucus has already its own refresh - more than a dozen MPs traipsed on stage to get their gold watch yesterday.

It must be the cleanest night of the long knives in political history - not one "retiring" MP has turned feral on the party.

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If there was one message members could take from this conference, it's that Team Key are not willing to hand over in 2017, as electoral cycles should dictate.

There's still one elephant in the room though: the absence of a credible successor. The rebrand is Team Key - not Team National and the campaign centres on his undeniable popularity.

Which begs the question: Without Key are they sunk?

- Sunday Star Times

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