Cognito: May Day

13 April 2017

Accedite candidatos *

Parliament rises today and will resume next month with a new-look Cabinet in charge.

Judging by Bill English’s pre-Christmas reshuffle, Cognito expects minimal change in this iteration.

The only real surprise would be if Nikki Kaye didn’t get the Education portfolio – she’s a rising star and has been groomed as a replacement for her friend and mentor Hekia Parata.

But it’s the replacement for Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully which has the Beltway behaving like a metronome, swinging to and fro on the frontrunners for the globetrotting role.

Cognito believes it’s safe to assume Bill English won’t take the role, and while asking Mr McCully to stay on as a caretaker for four months is simple, it’s too little change and doesn’t provide any opportunity to introduce new blood to Cabinet, albeit for only four months.

Top candidates for the job include Ministers Brownlee, Coleman, and Finlayson. A vote for Gerry Brownlee makes sense, because he could take it on in addition to his existing portfolios, which minimises the domino effect.

Jonathan Coleman’s appointment would require a new Health Minister and other subsequent changes, which is a lot of change for a situation that could be very different after 23 September.

In terms of the election, National has chosen the Māori Party as its preferred coalition partner. It’s paid a price with concessions on RMA law changes, but Bill English probably feels it will be less than the cost New Zealand First will exact if it’s choosing the next government.

When he’s had a choice, Winston Peters has always formed a government with the party that polls the highest on election night, and there’s no doubt that will be National, barring any major upset.

The real interest for Cognito is whether the Māori Party can win another two of the Māori electorate seats from Labour, which is a distinct possibility.

If National can maintain its current level of polling without losing support to New Zealand First or Labour, then a repeat of the current government could be on the cards, and Winston Peters might be the political bridesmaid.

Labour recognises the Māori Party threat and is standing its candidates only in the seats – not on the list. It’s a high-risk strategy forcing Māori voters to choose between Labour and the Māori Party because, if Labour loses, the number of Māori MPs in Parliament will be significantly reduced.

Labour has a lot of ground to make up in the polls, and while it has made some impact with Andrew Little, Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern, timing is against it. The Budget is a month away, and there is likely to be big spending, and possibly tax cuts, which will dominate the news for a while. After a Lions rugby tour and school holidays, there’ll only be a short election campaign of about two months – not a lot of time to attack National’s 16 per cent lead in the polls.

For clients, the message is that it’s game on, and the Budget is likely to set the tone – just don’t expect any sudden or extreme movement.

* Candidate set forward

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