Comment: National Party supporters at a meet and greet in Matamata with Christopher Luxon were concerned about how difficult it might be having New Zealand First in a governing arrangement.

Equally they were concerned it might boost New Zealand First’s vote now that National is prepared to work with it.

Luxon says the best way to avoid that is to vote National, and he’s refusing to engage in any questions about what might be on or off the table if New Zealand First is needed.

The National leader has now created a perception of a “coalition of chaos” on the right, after using that line so persistently to describe the left bloc.

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One elderly man in Matamata on Monday told Newsroom he thought it would be a “fiery relationship” with both Winston Peters and David Seymour working together, and it would be hard to manage.

Another woman said she was concerned about how much New Zealand First would demand in government.

Luxon is adamant a Labour-Greens-Te Pāti Māori coalition would be a sideshow, and that’s why he’s prepared to go to New Zealand First if necessary – to change the government.

But anyone who knows Peters and his political history knows he will fight hard in negotiations and even at the 11th hour there will be no guarantee his party will support legislation.

Labour remembers that all too well from its time with Peters during the 2017-2020 term when it tried to push through policies around three strikes, light rail, and cameras on fishing boats, only for New Zealand First to fight its corner and stop them.

On why Luxon is being clear about Peters and his party now, three weeks out from the election, he said it was “crunch time” and voters needed to know the election would be close and they needed to be “intentional” about their party vote.

Christopher Luxon on the hustings in Matamata. Photo: Jo Moir 

According to his Matamata supporters, Luxon needed to be clear with voters and it was right to rule New Zealand First in.

The latest 1News-Verian poll has New Zealand First back in Parliament on 5 percent and National and Act able to form a government – but only just reaching the 61 seats needed.

Newsroom’s polling average has New Zealand First back in power too, and Luxon can no longer whack away questions about the party not being over the threshold.

The 1News-Verian poll also asked voters last week if political parties should be upfront about who they would work with after the election. Of the 1001 eligible voters, 82 percent said yes, 10 percent said no, and 8 percent didn’t know or refused to answer.

It’s likely National has been polling and focus-grouping on the same question and got results that suggested it needed to be clearer with voters.

But it’s the one-seat majority that some polls have been showing that will have National most concerned.

Luxon’s message to voters on Monday that he’d work with Peters if he must, while also stressing how close the race was, is about trying to get across to voters that if they want a National-Act government they needed to get out and vote.

Luxon knows Peters’ history and says he expects he would talk to Labour as well, even though he has consistently ruled the party out for more than a year and Chris Hipkins has ruled Peters out.

In putting that message out there, Luxon is trying to make Peters seem untrustworthy and unpredictable.

If he can paint that image of Peters, he hopes it could lead to more votes for National.

A week ago, Luxon changed up his rhetoric, moving away from ignoring questions about New Zealand First and saying a governing arrangement is a hypothetical, to saying he would “make it work” with the parties the voters deliver.

Speaking to Newsroom on Monday, Peters said he wasn’t paying any attention to Luxon’s comments because it didn’t change anything.

“It’s about talking to voters, and they decide what I have to do.”

He said whether Luxon would phone him after October 14 wasn’t part of the narrative.

Peters said Luxon was always going to pick up the phone after the election.

“I always knew they’d come to understand, slow and belated as it is, voters are in charge of this election.”

He said New Zealand First was and always had been in play for this election and he predicted Labour would now come out this week and start attacking him and his party.

Peters’ campaign is all about talking to hundreds of people in packed public meetings, which he said no other party was doing.

“These guys are going around eating sausage rolls and pies and getting all this coverage, and all of a sudden the media wakes up and I’m getting phone calls from people I’ve never heard of.”

He said Labour and National weren’t running a “real campaign”.

Real campaign or not, Luxon has just bought himself some insurance by opening the door to Peters.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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