Bill English's main task this week as National leader was to put a shiny coat of paint on its electoral accommodations with Act and United Future.

It wasn't hard but he stumbled his way through with a few blotches.

English's laconic style was acceptable as Deputy Prime Minister but it doesn't sit well in a leader where the pace demands more urgency.

He is being guided by the team that surrounded John Key for 10 years.


They have decided that the safest transition is to simply superimpose English into Key's job and have him do the same things at the same time in the same manner each week, and even keep the same holiday routine.

Maybe English was still in holiday mode when he issued an almost identical press statement to Key's in 2014 to confirm the electoral accommodations with Act and United Future at a press conference on Wednesday.

He certainly did not betray a sense of how important they could be again to National this election.

Essentially they could prevent Winston Peters from holding a hand of aces after the election, either as a coalition partner to National or as a potential Prime Minister of a centre-left Government (Peters has called such speculation mindless but he has not ruled it out).

At his press conference, English called United Future by its correct name then mis-corrected himself to call it the United Party, and then called Ohariu by its old name, Ohariu Belmont - but they are trifling errors.

More surprisingly, he actually advised Maori voters to give their party vote to the Maori Party before checking himself and realising he should have been encouraging all voters to give their party votes to National.

He then said Maori voters should give their party vote to the Maori Party if they could not bring themselves to vote National. It was on-the-hoof stuff and it was an endorsement that the Maori Party possibly didn't even want.

National is two seats shy of being able to govern alone in the current parliamentary configuration. Act and United give it one added vote apiece and the Maori Party gives it a cushion of two.


The Maori Party does not have an electoral accommodation with National because there is nothing to accommodate. National doesn't stand in the seats.

And the Maori Party has always maintained a centrist position of being willing to work with either side, left or right, although to hear the sledging in Parliament between Labour and the Maori Party, it is difficult to believe.

Electoral accommodations have become less controversial with the Opposition since Labour and the Greens have started using them.

The so-called coat-tailing provision which removes the need for a 5 per cent threshold if a party wins an electorate seat has not been discredited in this Parliament because only one MP, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox - and a relatively well-behaved one - was elected through it.

So what are the chances of National's support parties improving their results to bridge the dip in National support with the leadership change? Remote for Act and United Future, and little better for the Maori Party.

In theory, Act should be in a position to capitalise on the relative stability David Seymour brings to the election compared to the Hide-led caucus which tore itself apart and the Banks-led caucus of one.

Seymour will hold Epsom which should give potential Act voters the confidence to cast their party vote for Act and know it will count, but the question is whether there are any potential Act voters left.

A competitor from the Opportunities Party may give Seymour and Act the profile they are looking for, although Gareth Morgan has ruled himself out of standing in the seat.

Avoiding scandal for three years has been a rare accomplishment for an Act leader, but Seymour needs more than that. Keeping New Zealand First out of office may yet be his strongest selling point to increase the caucus.

Peter Dunne is not necessarily dusted in Ohariu despite the Greens standing aside for the Labour candidate to finally knock off his 710 majority.

More than 18,000 voters gave National their Party Vote, 10,000 more than Labour, but 6000 voted for the virtually unknown National candidate.

If National is serious about saving Dunne, English may need to send some stronger signals to Ohariu voters than his effort on Wednesday.

The prospect of Labour's Greg O'Connor winning Ohariu has excited Peters-for-Prime Minister supporters because winning more electorate seats it makes it that bit harder for Little to be returned as list MP in the event of a low Labour Party vote.

Of National's three support partners, the Maori Party has the greatest potential to increase its number through extra electorate seats, particularly in Te Tai Hauauru where high profile candidate Howie Tamati is standing against low-profile Labour MP Adrian Rurawhe, Ikaroa Rawhiti where Marama Fox is standing against Labour MP Meka Whaitiri and in Tamaki Makaurau where two MPs, Labour's Peeni Henare, who holds the seat, and the Greens' Marama Davidson, could split the vote against the Maori Party's Shane Taurima.

There may be several upsets in the Maori seats, and not necessarily in the Maori Party's favour.

Wairiki, held by co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell, cannot be taken for granted. He has the benefit of incumbency, and the fact that Mana's Annette Sykes who ran second last time, is not standing as a candidate.

But Mana supporters could just as easily throw their weight behind Labour's Tamati Coffey because of their opposition to Te Ture Whenua bill opposing Maori land law reform. Coffey may also be more appealing to younger voters in Rotorua, the base of the electorate where he owns a bar.

Labour is launching its Maori-seat campaign tomorrow in Auckland with much hoopla.
Labour's ground game is strong and its Maori candidates will have an advantage over other parties on that score. That will be an important advantage given Labour's Maori seat candidates won't be on the list.

While the party vote remains the most important under MMP, the electorate battles of support parties have never been more strategically important.