National Party leader John Key has made a symbolic gesture of support for the ACT Party's John Banks during an informal meeting in Auckland.
The much-speculated cup of tea is viewed as a public signal for National Party supporters in the Epsom seat to give Mr Banks their electorate vote.[image:3699:full]
The men met at a cafe in the upmarket suburb of Newmarket in the heart of the electorate on Friday afternoon.
ACT has been a coalition partner for National, but is polling well below the 5% threshold needed to re-enter Parliament. Winning Epsom at the election on 26 November is considered the party's best chance.
National's candidate for the seat, Paul Goldsmith, has been seeking only the party vote, while Mr Banks has been promoting the line that electing him would also deliver additional ACT MPs to support a John Key-led Government.[image:3698:full]
On Friday, Mr Key insisted that he is not telling people in Epsom how to vote.
"Well, I'm not telling anyone to vote in a particular way, because I don't think it's right for anyone to tell someone how to vote.
"But what I am saying is, we've had very good constructive working relationships with ACT - we wouldn't be at all unhappy if they were back in Parliament and if (people) decide to tactically vote and split their vote, I wouldn't be at all unhappy about that."
Mr Key says if National gets to form a government, having Mr Banks and ACT leader Don Brash as ministers would depend many factors, including the size of the vote and whether they would want those positions.
"My preference, if I can, would be to return to the position we had in 2008 to 2011 which is that it's a National Cabinet and we have confidence and supply agreements with the other political parties."
Earlier, Mr Banks told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme he is working hard to win the Auckland seat and believed the meeting will help him get over the line.
National has dipped under 50% in the latest Herald-DigiPoll, and although it is still well ahead of the combined support for Labour and the Green parties, the gap has narrowed slightly.
In the same poll, ACT has had a small rise to 1.5%, but Mr Banks believes the party will get more votes on election day.
"Our languishing in the polls was the same three years ago, but we got five seats," Mr Banks told the programme. "I'm quietly confident that we'll bring a number of high-quality MPs to the John Key coalition government."
He believes ACT will be important to National after the election.
"This is going to be, regardless of what anyone says, a very close, hard-fought election down to the wire. There may be two or three seats in it on election night, and I want to have those two or three seats to give to John Key to be the Prime Minister again."
John Banks has been mayor of Auckland twice from 2007-2010 and from 2001-2004. He is also a former National Party cabinet minister and is clearly interested in being one again.
"Every single Member of Parliament goes into Parliament to become a minister. I'm going into Parliament if I get the support of the people of Epsom - and I've still got a lot of work to do."
Banks strong contender regardless - Brash
ACT leader Don Brash was campaigning in Canterbury on Friday and says he believes John Banks has a strong chance of winning the seat - with or without the meeting.
"I'm delighted that the Prime Minister has been willing to indicate that he does want ACT there rather than not - that's constructive.
"But John Banks has been working very hard indeed, and I believe he had a good shot of winning the seat even without an endorsement."
Dr Brash says the meeting was about winning Epsom and it is appropriate that John Key met with John Banks, rather than himself.
Goff says parties trying to rort system
Labour Party leader Phil Goff says ACT and National are trying to rort the electoral system by attempting to gift the seat of Epsom to Mr Banks.
Mr Goff says people do not want ACT back and doubts voters in Epsom will go along with it.
"John Key said that Don Brash was an extremist - he's cuddling up to them. But actually, they've got a lot in common: they both want to sell off all our assets - that's what they'll both be doing over a cup of tea today. Which ones are they going to sell next."
Mr Goff says he does not believe ACT is a party worth saving.