If National had ruled out a deal with New Zealand First three years ago, would the latter have got less than five per cent of the vote and the former still be leading the government?
We’ll never know.
But we do know that around half the people who voted for NZ First hoped the party would go with National and that a lot of them are still very unhappy Winston Peters chose Labour and the Green Party instead.
We also know that while Peters was supposedly negotiating in good faith he was also working on legal action against National’s deputy Paula Bennett and then-minister Ann Tolley.
That tells us, once again, that Peters can’t be trusted.
Simon Bridges has said he will announce well before the election whether or not National will rule out New Zealand First.
I hope he does say no to them which will make it quite clear to voters that a vote for that party is a vote for a Labour-led government.
There are risks.
In spite of their many criticisms of National not trying to win Epsom so that Act will get into parliament, Labour and New Zealand First could come to a similar arrangement in another seat in an attempt to secure an electorate for a New Zealand First candidate. If that worked, NZ First would not need to secure five percent of the vote to stay in parliament.
New Zealand First could get back, with or without an electorate, and National could have too few seats to form a government without it and so be back in opposition.
But there are bigger risks in not ruling out New Zealand First.
It would send the message to voters that New Zealand First might go with National, even though the chances of that are very, very remote.
It would enable Peters to pretend he’ll listen to voters even though last time more opted for National than Labour.
It would give Peters the power he’s had too many times before to play the bigger parties off against each other and extract too high a price for putting them into government.
The worst day in government is supposed to be better than the best in opposition. But if the choice is government with Peters, I’d opt for opposition.
Tracy Martin says this year feels like the beginning of the end for Peters:
. . .So is it time to write Peters off? Peters has cleverly played up his part as Labour’s handbrake, just as he once pitched himself as a bulwark against National’s extremes. It’s how he has survived so long in politics – even after the “baubles of office'” fiasco, or Owen Glenn donations scandal.
But you can only play one side against the other for so long and it feels like Peters has played one too many hands.
So is the extraordinary Peters era coming to an end? He is our most familiar face on television; as recognisable as the theme tune to Coronation Street, as well worn as a pair of old slippers.
But even soap operas eventually have their day.
National ruling out NZ First would make the end of the Peters soap opera much more likely.
Please, National, just say no.