The National Party's strong hint to its supporters to vote for Act's John Banks in Epsom and United Future's Peter Dunne in Ohariu has drawn two distinct responses. From the Opposition came accusations of a stitch-up. From the vast majority of people, came merely a resigned shrug. The spectacle may have been somewhat unedifying, but this seemed to be politics as usual. Under the workings of the MMP system, it appeared only sensible for National to shore up its allies. It knows that if it should need partners after polling day, it will have to rely once more on the winners of electorate seats.

This manoeuvring may be superfluous. The latest rolling average of leading political polls suggests that in a 123-seat Parliament, National, with 65 seats, would have an absolute majority of seven seats. Indeed, if ever an election offered the prospect of a party garnering sufficient support to govern by itself, this is surely it.

Traditionally, however, strong positions tend to be eaten into as polling day approaches. National also knows that one of its coalition partners, the Maori Party, is highly unlikely to replicate its 2008 success. So there is reason enough for accommodations with its other coalition partners. That involving Mr Dunne is a relatively straightforward matter. The situation with Act is much more complex, but has, on balance, become less fraught with the party's change of leadership.

This time last year, National must have wondered whether it should not just stand a strong candidate in Epsom and claim the seat for itself. Act was in disarray, the victim of a series of scandals, not least then leader Rodney Hide's taxpayer-funded overseas travel with his girlfriend. It was questionable whether Epsom's National voters would be happy to again vote strategically for Mr Hide, and possible that National's party vote in the electorate could deteriorate.


Don Brash's takeover of the Act leadership has changed matters. Accommodating him in a post-election cabinet creates its own problem, but the selection of John Banks in Epsom gives an Act candidate who will not be unpalatable to most National voters. The lot of the National candidate, Paul Goldsmith, will, as with his hapless predecessor, Richard Worth, be to campaign for the party vote.

Dr Brash wants to sharply increase Act's vote. He has embarked on a strategy that targets many of the voters previously attracted to Winston Peters. It has shown little evidence of working. The latest rolling average of polls suggests Act will gain only three seats - down from the present five - enough to return Dr Brash and his deputy, John Boscawen, with Mr Banks. National, aware of this weakness, has taken its chance to demand more in return for the Epsom deal. Act will not stand candidates in several marginal seats, including New Plymouth and Waimakariri, to increase National's chances of holding or winning them.

If there is anything new about the latest set of machinations, it is that little attempt has been made to disguise them. This may reflect a belief that the public now accepts this as part and parcel of MMP. If so, it would be a mistake. Many people harbour considerable doubts about aspects of the system, not least list MPs and thresholds.

The ability to claim several seats on the strength of one electorate is a matter of justifiable concern. If a party such as Act cannot cross the 5 per cent national threshold but manages to win Epsom, why should it get more than one seat? Many people are also clearly uncomfortable with the notion that people can get into Parliament with no personal endorsement from an electorate.

If MMP is endorsed in the referendum accompanying the election, as polls suggest, such questions should feature strongly in the review to follow. Party strategists may be ever more comfortable with their increasingly blatant accommodations. But they should not fall into the trap of believing this is politics as people want it.