Prime Minister John Key has confirmed National will not pull its candidate in East Coast Bays to give Conservative leader Colin Craig a clear run and ruled out any last minute change of mind, even if it could cost National a third term in Government.
Mr Key formally announced National's proposed electorate deals today, although they were already well signalled in advance.
He said National would encourage its voters in Epsom and Ohariu to give their electorate votes to Act's David Seymour and United Future's Peter Dunne respectively. While National could work with the Conservative Party if it made it into Parliament under its own steam, National would not help it get there.
"The only option to accommodate that party would be to remove a sitting MP from the ballot paper and that, as I have said, is a bridge too far. So there will be no electorate accommodation with the Conservatives. However, we are happy to consider working with the Conservative party post-election should the public vote that party in to Parliament."
Mr Key's announcement got a swift reaction from Labour leader David Cunliffe who said Mr Key was treating MMP as "a plaything."
"These parties have no electoral mandate and will return to Parliament only through blatant electoral manipulation. The Prime Minister is treating New Zealanders with contempt, using the coat-tailing provisions to abuse the system."
Mr Key also said again he believed he could work with NZ First if it returned to Parliament, but said it was unlikely Mr Peters would be given a Cabinet post. Since 2008 National's support party ministers have all been outside Cabinet and he expected that to continue while National was the dominant partner. He believed he could have a constructive relationship with NZ First. "Yes, there's lots of baggage and history there, but Winston Peters has lots of baggage and history with all sides of the House."
Mr Key has ruled out working with Mr Peters in the 2008 and 2011 elections, but changed his mind earlier this year when he first spelled out National's preferences for a coalition.
National will not withdraw its candidates from Epsom or Ohariu, but Mr Key said they would focus on the party vote only. Mr Key said he expected there would also be a lot of National voters who would vote for Mr Goldsmith, while others would decide to vote tactically. He said as National Party leader he would vote for Mr Goldsmith himself as an Epsom voter.
Despite its current high polling, Mr Key said it was highly likely National would need support parties to get a third term in government and tactical voting would help achieve that.
Earlier today, Conservative Party leader Colin Craig said he'd prefer National incumbent Murray McCully to stand in East Coast Bays, and took a shot at the deals National does with the Act and United Future parties.
Without the seat, the Conservatives have to win at least 5 per cent of the party vote to enter Parliament.
Mr Craig said he had a dim view of electoral deals, and a deal with National could have seen a voter backlash.
"I'm reasonably negative about them. I've been quite critical of arrangements like National do with Act and United Future, because I'd like to think the voters get to decide first how they wanna vote, and then politicians decide how Governments get formed."
He said he had never asked for a deal from National.
"It would help on one level, in that we wouldn't have to work as hard. But it doesn't give us a sense of independence and being our own party. On balance I think it's better for us, than if National had done something for us."
For National, pulling Mr McCully from the seat would also risk alienating liberal voters who were not fond of the Conservative Party.
But Mr Craig said he supported a third term for National, if they won the largest share of the party vote - though he could not rule out working with Labour.
If Labour agreed to the Conservative's bottom line of binding referenda, and National did not, then "that would be a very interesting scenario, and perhaps Labour would be prepared to do that".
He said he did not expect to beat Mr McCully in East Coast Bays this election.
He claimed his own polling had his party at 3 to 4 per cent - though last election he claimed to be in front in the seat of Rodney, and eventually lost by over 12,000 votes to Mark Mitchell.
"I think 6 to 7 per cent is realistic."