Northland MP and NZ First leader Winston Peters is looking forward to taking on National in September's general election, but he's staying mum on whether former Labour Party MP Shane Jones will also stand for the party.
Prime Minister Bill English on Wednesday announced that the election would be held on September 23 when the National Party would seek a fourth consecutive term in office.
Perhaps the biggest shock of this current term was Mr Peters winning the seemingly safe Northland seat off National in a byelection in March, 2015. When then Prime Minister John Key learnt Mr Peters was standing in the byelection he said the NZ First leader had no chance of winning the seat, but he won in a landslide.
Mr Jones, a former cabinet minister, was at Mr Peters' byelection night party and speculation has been rife since that Mr Jones was being targeted for a return to Parliament as a NZ First candidate. Much of the speculation has hinted at Mr Jones standing in Whangarei against National MP Shane Reti.
Mr Peters said NZ First is ready for the election on September 23.
"All our planning and key events, such as the campaign launch and the annual convention, are set around this date. It suits us fine."
However, he would not be drawn on whether Mr Jones would be in the mix to be a NZ First candidate in Whangarei or any other electorate in the election.
Mr Peters said the selection process was a matter for the party to decide, not him, and he would not comment ahead of a decision being made.
However, he said he was definitely standing again in Northland and the first tranche of other candidate announcements would be those sitting MPs who would be standing again this year. After that the candidates for other seats would be announced.
Mr Peters said he had made no secret of his respect for Mr Jones' intelligence, brain and experience "even when he was a Labour cabinet minister".
"We will have some outstanding new candidates coming out [for the election]," he said.
He was expecting a tough battle from National as it tried to regain the seat it had held for more than 40 years. Already a number of senior government MPs and cabinet ministers had been in Northland this year making policy announcements and he predicted more would come.
"National MPs will be darkening the skies up here [between now and the election] after years of neglecting Northland because they thought it was a safe seat."