Minor parties

It is the time of the electoral cycle when the smallest of Parliament’s parties start to have existential crises. These are real crises for Act and United Future, given they look into the abyss of extinction every three years.

There is precious little oxygen in the rarefied atmosphere inhabited by Government support parties. If evidence was needed it came this week when Dunne tried to remind people of his existence by issuing a press statement setting out the three policy themes he would be focusing on in the lead-up to the 2017 election. The themes were: an economy that provides fairness, choice and opportunity; establishing core environmental bottom lines; and embracing and celebrating a modern, multi-cultural New ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz.

It was effectively a campaign launch. It fell with the impact of a feather.

It is a tricky time for the leaders of the two parties. Act and United Future are dependent on either wooing 5 per cent of voters to get into Parliament or on keeping a grip on an electorate seat.

Neither has come close to the 5 per cent mark for some time and nor are they likely to. In both cases, the electorate seat deal is the only option.

Both Dunne and Seymour are all but guaranteed to be back in the next parliament, and their existential crisis is but a media mirage. It is clear that neither is likely to get 5% for United Future or ACT. So, the only risky thing is that their sugar daddy, National, is going to drop support.?

Sometime next year, Key will set out National’s preferred coalition choices for 2017. His preference will be a government with Act, United Future and the Maori Party. NZ First will sit a bit further down the scale. He will not rule out scrapping all three of his current support partners if he does need NZ First and dumping the rest is the price of forming a government.

He will also set out electorate deals. Soon Act is having a Matariki fundraiser. Matariki is something the Act of yore did not know existed, let alone bothered to celebrate. Encouragingly, the Prime Minister is a star turn at the fundraiser, held in Orakei. That bodes well for another Epsom deal come 2017. There is no reason not to repeat it.

Things are far more precarious for Peter Dunne in Ohariu. That will depend on whether National thinks Dunne can hold on to the seat, which is far more marginal than Epsom. If the Greens do not stand a candidate to boost Labour’s chances, National will have to consider withdrawing its candidate as well to ensure it does not split the vote and let Labour come through the middle. That will be a hard call. National has never completely withdrawn its candidate from the seats it does deals in – a tacit acknowledgement of the cynicism of the deals. It will likely be punished should it start to take that further by pulling candidates and leaving voters who can not stomach such machinations without a choice.

Things are more precarious for Peter Dunne. He has done very little to support National this term. You’d think National would have enough of his preciousness. The lack of any meaningful RMA reform can be fully sheeted home to the man who has been acting like the kingmaker.

But, this may come to an end. Rumours exist that significant resources are being marshaled to stand a credible right-of-centre candidate in Ohariu.

As for ACT, Seymour is safe although he’s been adrift for a number of months now. His performance in parliament is petulant. I can’t help think that he’s lost a valuable advisor or similar steadying influence. For a while there he couldn’t do a thing wrong. Now, it’s a surprise when he gets something right. But Epsom knows what to do, so Seymour will be back. ACT had hoped the next election would be The One and, right up to their conference, it looked like that was quite a possibility. But since?

Somewhat alarmingly, it seems to be Winston Peters who is making the most sense right now.


– Claire Trevett, NZ Herald