Opinion by James Murray
If you thought America had its own problems with tea-related democracy, New Zealand has just blown it out of the water with a brew that could swing an election.
Cos if you happened to be spending an sunny afternoon in Newmarket today you may just have come across a particularly awkward piece of political circus.
Key has shared a symbolic cup of tea with Epsom’s ACT candidate John Banks, a political endorsement that could see Banks and his party back in Parliament.
Not bad for a man who appears to be flailing in his attempts to win the true-yellow seat so far, and a party who are polling near oblivion.
Of course this move would usually be seen as a politically canny one by Key, even if he has sidestepped the issue all week. Getting a few ACT MPs in Parliament makes their future coalition look pretty strong, and would effectively sink any chances of a Labour/Green/NZ First coalition launching a surprise victory on November 26.
It’s not a great look for MMP though, this sort of deal sullies the electoral system’s name. One cup of tea should not bear so much political weight.
And there was a certain awkwardness about this set-piece that makes me think the course of true Nat/ACT love may not run smooth this time round.
Asking people to vote tactically, when like Key openly admits, you are not going to vote tactically yourself – leaves the Prime Minister open to a miniature political revolt.
Key, an Epsom voter himself, says he will be ticking the box marked Paul Goldsmith but clearly wants others to act differently.
There are suggestions that Epsom is tired with this deal, today a punter openly questioned Banks as to why he shouldn’t just give both his votes to National. Eerily young, NZ First campaigners shout that Epsom is a rotten borough. An independent candidate turns up and accuses Banks and Brash of being corporate criminals due to their links with Huljich Management.
So a play like this is not risk free, and it sounds as if National have come out with the endorsement a little earlier than planned. Potentially a sign of being worried about ACT’s placing in the polls, and regular news stories about the pending endorsement taking away from messages Key would rather spend time pushing? Potentially so.
I think the deal will still just about work for Banks and Key this time round, but it’s starting to look a decidedly sickly shade of yellow.
If I was an Epsom voter, I’d be keen as mustard to see it finished.