The ACT Party, clinging to its Epsom lifeline, has a "good chance" of rejuvenating itself as a strong coalition partner in 2014, says Prime Minister John Key.
After scraping through the 2011 election with a single MP – John Banks – after a scandal-dogged campaign, the party is in rebuilding mode. At its annual conference on the weekend, president and former MP John Boscawen emphasised the importance of the wealthy Epsom electorate, and said in 2014 the incumbent National Party will need coalition options other than the Maori Party and New Zealand First.
"We need to constantly remind Epsom voters of how crucial their support for John Banks was in the last election, and why it will be so important that ACT retains Epsom."
This morning, speaking to Firstline, Mr Key was optimistic the party could make a comeback, but acknowledged it's been a tough few years for its right-wing ally.
"I think they've got a good chance of regenerating," says Mr Key. "Obviously they've been going through a few issues, and they're not actually solely related to what happened last year. ACT's been in some decline for a number of years, which is why you saw the external takeover."
- VIDEO: John Key talks about ACT
Mr Key says he's a centrist leader, which keeps a spot on the right for ACT to pick up votes.
"When we've got too far to the right, National's historically done poorly. It's won its most elections under Keith Holyoake, and Keith was very much a centrist leader, and I think I'm very much a centrist leader.
"So that does leave room for us out to the right, where there will be some voters who say, 'Look, John Key's not right-wing enough for me,' so there's some room there."
Preferably though, he'd prefer people just voted for National – perhaps as long as they don't live in Epsom.
"In a perfect world we would get 61-plus seats. But no one's done that under MMP, and we acknowledge how difficult that is, so we do need friends and we do need partners.
"Where they come from and how we cobble them together, that's really a matter for the voters, ultimately. I can't control that – I can give people a bit of an indication of who we'd prefer to work with, but in the end that's the system we've now got."