Banks would beat Hide, leaked poll shows
A leaked poll shows former Auckland mayor John Banks would easily beat ACT leader Rodney Hide in Epsom in a race to find a coalition partner for National.
The poll - the third in a series - was described as being "commissioned by a long-standing admirer of former National leader Dr Brash".
It asked: "If a candidate were standing in Epsom with the aim of being a coalition partner for National would you prefer that candidate to be?" It offered as the options John Banks, Rodney Hide or would not vote for either.
Banks was backed by 35 per cent, down slightly on an earlier poll, while Hide was backed by 14 per cent. Don't knows made up 24 per cent.
It was dated February 21 - before the latest move by Dr Brash to oust Mr Hide as leader.
Brash has touted Mr Banks as a candidate for Epsom.
Hide has shrugged off the public challenge to his leadership.
Speaking outside a local government conference in Christchurch today, Hide said he had not spoken with Brash since he revealed his challenge in the Dominion Post at the weekend.
He had spoken to his caucus about the bid, but he said it was hard to respond to Brash's comments.
"We live in a democracy, and there's a process that we have to go through [regarding the party leadership]," Hide said.
He had not asked MPs for their support, but he was aware of reports suggesting he had enough support to see off a challenge.
"It's not about the numbers. The point is to do the best I can for the party, and then for the Prime Minister, and ultimately for the country."
Meanwhile, ACT MP Heather Roy was making no comment to media this evening as she gathered with supporters at an inner city Auckland bar.
Roy had advertised the meeting for a gathering of Facebook and Twitter followers to be held this evening.
But despite being approached by several media Roy said she would not be making any comment on Brash's moves to take the leadership off Hide or whether Hide had had her support.
Hide said this afternoon that he was aware of the importance of his Epsom electorate, and was confident that he could hold on the seat.
"It's always been a challenge for ACT every election. I've worked hard, and I'm very optimistic, but I'm not taking anything for granted."
Hide said he last spoke to Brash three weeks ago. Despite the challenge, he was looking forward "to achieving a lot more".
"We have nudged the government along, and it's my view that we need to do a lot more to resolve the economic issues that we face," HIde said.
PM WOULD WORK WITH BRASH
Earlier today Prime Minister John Key said Brash was a political extremist but he was not ruling out working with him - either as ACT leader or under the banner of a new party.
Key said there would always be "a number of parties that throw their hat in the ring" in an election year and National was not concerned about them splitting the right wing vote.
"From National's perspective we are in a different space. We very much see ourselves as a centre-right party. We are not a political party that follows an extreme right wing doctrine. Whether that's in the form of a new political party, that's a matter for whatever that party might be called and their leader."
Key succeeded Brash as National Party leader. Asked if he could work with Brash again, Key said: "On a number of the issues we are in agreement in terms of tackling those issues. Where there is disagreement is in terms of the prescription and the extremity of the positions that are adopted.
"No-one is arguing that we don't need to address issues like, for instance, student loans. He would want to put interest back on student loans, I don't. I'm more than happy to address the eligibility rules.
"I don't think there is massive disagreement on the issue, and certainly there's agreement in that we want to lift the economic performance of New Zealand. My view is that you actually have to take the public with you and very extreme positions ultimately are more likely to disenfranchise the public. I'd rather build a consensus."
Key previously ruled out ACT MP Sir Roger Douglas as a member of his Cabinet, saying he was too extremist. But he would not be drawn on whether Brash was also too extreme for a National government.
"Ah look we'll worry about that when...for a start of there's an issue about whether he ultimately becomes the leader of the ACT party or whether he ultimately gets back into Parliament."
Brash hopes to address the ACT board next Saturday and his pitch is likely to include a promise that funders will turn the tap back on if he is leader.
If either John Boscawen or Hilary Calvert decides to support Brash, he will have the numbers to roll Hide, who is known to have lost the support of former deputy Heather Roy, and Douglas.
Right-wing commentator Matthew Hooton said if ACT rejected Brash, it would be "extinct by Christmas". An alternative right wing party was inevitable to "take forward the ideas of economic reform" that neither ACT nor National was currently carrying the torch for.