Comment: There is only one benefactor of the National Party leader talking about, giving airtime to, and ruling out working with New Zealand First, and that’s Winston Peters.

It’s a driving force behind Christopher Luxon refusing to do so, but there’s other reasons to.

While polls in recent weeks increasingly have National and Act able to comfortably govern, it’s much too early to say things won’t change.

* Luxon and media playing game of hide and seek
* NZ’s richest man backing NZ First again

Newsroom’s polling average currently has National and Act on just 60 MPs, needing New Zealand First’s seven to govern.

The result on October 14, or after special votes have been counted, could have New Zealand First in play or even necessary to form a government.

If that’s the case, Luxon can’t be seen to be going back on his word publicly, while trying to press ahead and form a government.

Ruling out New Zealand First would only serve to back Luxon into a corner, and if he doesn’t need to be there and can keep his options open it makes sense to do so.

Luxon continues to be questioned almost daily on whether he will rule Peters in or out, and if you look at his language, he’s already answered it.

On Sunday he told journalists, “At the end of the day I have to make a government work on the other side of the election, and I have to use the MMP system to make sure we can put a coalition together”.

Then on Monday, “I have to work with the MMP system at the end of the day, so I do everything this side of the election to maximise the National Party vote, and then on the other side I have to make it work and the New Zealand people will deliver us a result”.

What that quite clearly says (in political word soup) is that if voters put New Zealand First in the mix, then he’ll have no choice but to pick up the phone and negotiate.

But what Luxon has also said to media, sometimes multiple times in the same press conference, is that his “preference is to work with the Act Party”.

Translated, if National and Act can govern alone, they will, and if New Zealand First is needed Luxon will negotiate because he’s prepared to “make it work”.

Act doesn’t want to work with New Zealand First, but that’s not exactly new terrain.

There are no votes to be gained for Luxon by talking about Peters – all it does is distract from his key message, which is to vote National.

The Greens and New Zealand First didn’t want to work with each other in 2017 either and they didn’t.

Peters did a coalition deal with Labour while the Greens signed a confidence and supply agreement with Jacinda Ardern.

There were no deals or promises struck directly between New Zealand First and the Greens and the governing arrangement survived the term.

The exact same arrangement could exist between National, New Zealand First and Act if needed – or as Luxon has said if “that’s what the New Zealand people deliver us”.

Peters has ruled out working with Labour this time around but has said he’ll work with National.

In response to questions from media about whether he could work with Luxon, he said, “I can work with anyone as you well know, even the media”.

“As you know, I’m a kind, nice guy, forgiving in the extreme, and can work with anyone – excepting the Labour Party, who I said lied to me and I’m not going back with them.”

Luxon has no interest in definitively ruling Peters out because that would only benefit New Zealand First by giving them oxygen.

There are no votes to be gained for Luxon by talking about Peters – all it does is distract from his key message, which is to vote National.

The last thing Luxon wants is a disengaged voter only half-tuned into the news hearing him talking about another party.

Not giving a clear answer spares Luxon from the headlines Peters so desperately wants.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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