Election date set, let the campaigning begin

9:39 pm on 1 February 2017

Power Play - The date that has been set for the 2017 election won't have surprised many politicians, with opposition parties already setting their plans in motion, writes Jane Patterson.

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New Zealanders will place their vote in the ballot boxes this September. Photo: 123rf.com

Mark it in your diary - New Zealand will go to the polls on 23 September.

That Saturday has been the most widely-picked date, and will take place almost three years to the day since the 2014 election.

Before he resigned as Prime Minister, John Key dropped hints about a September election. Bill English has stuck to that timetable.

To go much earlier would have opened the party up to criticism it was panicking, and that it feared Mr English could not hold, or attract, the attention of voters for that many months.

He will want to give himself as much time as possible to settle in as Prime Minister, and have as many photo opportunities as possible with world leaders at international events, all of which helps build the "prime ministerial" image.

Political parties get punished for going to the polls too early without a good reason, and, alongside the risk of lower turnouts, there is little enthusiasm among politicians to be out and about during an election campaign braving winter rain and wind.

Opposition parties would have started their planning around a September election, so they would not have been caught off balance.

In fact, while Mr English was still in his media conference and only minutes after he had named the date, Labour put out a media release "Bring it on - we're ready to fight for what matters", obviously pre-written and ready to go.

They and the Greens will want to use the next seven months to boost leader profiles and hope the government will be hurt by scandal and voter fatigue with a third-term National Party.

Mr English is following his predecessor's election-year script by indicating National's preferred partners - no surprise there - ACT, United Future and the Maori Party.

Ever aware of the fine balance under MMP, Mr English is leaving the door open for an "unlikely" partnership with New Zealand First.

He cannot afford to shut out New Zealand First and its mercurial leader Winston Peters altogether, with the fortunes of National's three support partners by no means secure.

Mr English needs to brush up on his courting skills.

In the same breath as naming them as a possible partner, Mr English compared New Zealand First unfavourably to his own party, which he described as "outward looking and open to investment" (Translation: National is not anti-immigration and xenophobic - accusations it has levelled at New Zealand First in the past).

The news briefing had the feel of a campaign stump speech, with Mr English extolling the virtues of his stable and economically successful party, and lashing into Labour and the Greens for being on the "far left" (Translation: terrible at managing the economy).

Mr English took things further and ripped into the Greens after questions about when the two parties worked together in the past on the home insulation initiative.

He laid out a litany of complaints about how they did not like to share credit and were "nasty" about National Party leaders.

None of that worries the Greens too much, with one MP shrugging it off as a sign National was rattled.

Welcome to election year.

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