The SST headline is:
Except there is no plot. The story doesn’t talk about any plot. This is not the fault of the journalists who wrote the story – sub-editors pick headlines. So what does the story say:
National is not deciding, in the sense of making a decision. Of course many in National are discussing Epsom, but decisions on whether to vigorously contest Epsom will not be made in the next few days or even weeks. You never decide strategically important things in the middle of a media storm.
Around the middle of 2011 is when National will make decisions about what sort of campaign to run in Epsom. You don’t decide these things 14 months before the election.
With Act’s credibility in tatters over the David Garrett fiasco, National is worried endorsing Hide next year would upset Epsom voters, particularly women. That has put pressure on National to stand a strong candidate or risk voters ignoring any tactical voting option.
National has in fact never endorsed Rodney. National has always stood a candidate. The issue is whether the candidate primarily pursues the party vote (which most candidates are expected to do), or also campaigns aggressively for the electorate vote (which only happens in a few seats not held by National).
My expectation is that National will have a strong candidate, regardless of what sort of campaign is run.
Some party insiders believe the anti-Act mood is so strong that Epsom voters could decide “stuff this, I’m voting for National anyway”. The Act brand is so discredited that there is already talk in National about a new far-Right party.
Unless Fairfax is going to start talking about the Greens as a “far -left” party, could they please not use that term about ACT.
It is quite possible that voters in Epsom will vote for a National candidate, even if not explicitly seeking their votes. I actually don’t think the decision rests with National – it rests with the voters in Epsom. And I think they will make their decision quite rationally. If voting for Rodney looks like it will significantly increase the chances of National retaining Government, then they will – as they did in 2005 and 2008. If however it looks like voting for Rodney will not help the centre-right greatly (if if ACT is polling at below 1%), then his chances are not so good.
But these are decisions that people reach in the election campaign, not 14 months before.
So Rodney’s challenge is to use the next 12 months to get ACT polling well enough, so that Epsom voters will tactically vote. But this will need a blemish free performance from ACT and Rodney. And there seems little doubt that a couple of the “scorpions” within ACT are determined to destroy the party, so long as they can have “utu” on Rodney. This was made clear in the e-mails Whale oil blogged. And they may succeed – time will tell.