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  • Writer's pictureGrant McLachlan - New Zealand Herald - Column

Helping form new govt untried strategy for Peters

For all the reasons Winston Peters should support a National or Labour-led government he will be damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

What has been overlooked, though, is that, when previously in a position of "kingmaker", he has both times extended a declining reign rather than changed the government.

At the subsequent elections, 1999 and 2008, NZ First suffered from supporting a National government and a Labour government in their third terms. Why would supporting National in its fourth term be any different?

Some have said that National "won" the election. The numbers contradict that. National's support has been declining since 2011.

The support for government parties has dropped from 69 MPs in 2008 to currently 59 MPs. Technically, more people voted to change the government at this election.

National compared itself with a rowing skiff primed for speed. The problem is, no matter how many crew changes, the hull must be nearing its used by date.

Peters will be wary of jumping into a sinking ship and then be blamed for it. Many of his wary crew jumped ship in 1998. This time on election night, Peters publicly warned his crew to fall in line.

Choosing Labour and the Greens would be akin to building a better boat from scratch rather than latching together a trimaran two terms down the course. Labour's support is trending upwards.

The problem to overcome is that no minor support party has increased their vote in government. They have effectively been cannibalised by the major party.

That said, NZ First hasn't tried changing the government to see if that increased its support. Everything else it has tried has failed.

NZ First would struggle to gain support when in government with National. If it, however, started from scratch with Labour, each party could define areas where it could target certain soft National support.

Labour could target urban and social issues whereas NZ First could target regional infrastructure and industry.

Winston Peters would see road, rail, and port investment in the regions as his legacy. Labour would see increased home ownership as its legacy.

As NZ First and Labour try to gain support from National, the Greens should also be thinking strategically of how to influence decisions and consolidate its support in the process.

James Shaw, aware of the public perception that his party is to the left of Labour, would be looking for quick policy gains that surprise many in the centre and right.

Labour are more likely to lose support to National and the Greens than to NZ First. To stay in power after 2020, it would be preferable for Labour to lose support to the Greens.

The only other times, however, that the Greens have taken votes off Labour has been in 2008 and 2011.

Similarly, Act, who offered support in confidence and supply, increased its support at National's expense at the 1999 election and again in 2002.

A new Labour-led government would need to reassure the business community of its economic credibility while at the same time disrupt National's networks within it. National and Act used their networks to great effect in 1999 and 2000 to spread doom and gloom.

National think that it has the moral right to form a government with NZ First. If Peters turns his back on it, National will try to destroy NZ First as it has tried to do at every election since 2005.

Such a strategy could again backfire on National. Winston Peters could simply fast-track replacing the one lane bridges in Northland and deliver everything else National dangled in front of voters, but packaged with his brand.

The Government's books are in good shape and Labour could prove there is no $11.7b fiscal hole. That would quickly embarrass National and the polls will reflect how many people were conned by Stephen Joyce's spin in the last two weeks of the campaign.

Labour and NZ First in government will quickly find anything else National has been hiding behind the Official Information Act. The media can expect a bonanza of damaging material drip-fed over an extended period.

Expect the first term of a Labour-Greens-NZ First government to be more transparent and fairer.

All the National proxies on Crown boards and embedded in the civil service will be purged, Government procurement will take into account the effect on industry and society. Wool farmers will be happy. So will manufacturing and engineering.

As the NZ First leader's namesake Winston Churchill said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." Winston Peters now has his third opportunity to be kingmaker. This time, he's less damned if he does than if he doesn't.

• Grant McLachlan is an Auckland-based writer, publisher, and company director.

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