A party that only got 2% of the vote and isn't even in Parliament doesn't normally dominate the political headlines for a week, yet Colin Craig's Conservative Party has managed to do so this week.
It is no surprise that attention has turned to the Conservatives, as the viability of ACT as a future coalition partner for National has slumped. Some of the other alternatives are also facing challenges.
United Future is almost the ideal coalition partner. Peter Dunne is a very competent Minister, and United Future is always reasonable over affordability of promises and not being seen to be the tail that wags the dog. Both Helen Clark and John Key have found United Future a good party to deal with. The one time they went a bit off the rails was after their merger with the former Christian Democrats. Peter Dunne was warning people on Twitter this weekend of the dangers of extremists and labelled the Conservatives as "seriously extreme and nutty" Dunne freely admitted that he was speaking from personal experience.
The problem with United Future is that in 2005 they got just 1.5%, in 2008 0.9% and in 2011 0.6%. It is difficult to see how they can bring in any MP beyond Peter Dunne. It is also possible that Dunne could choose to retire in 2014.
I wrote last week of the prognosis for ACT, so no need to exhume their recent problems. The other current partner for National has been the Maori Party. It is important to note though that the Maori Party has never chosen National - it is more that National has chosen to do agreements with the Maori Party, even though they didn't need them to govern. The Maori Party has never been in a position where it has to choose between a National-led and Labour-led Government, and could well choose Labour if it held the balance of power in 2014.
Two other factors with the Maori Party are that if they held the balance of power, then the policies they would demand from National could well be unpalatable to many National supporters. The other factor is that the Maori Party has gone from five MPs to three MPs and face both Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples retiring at the next election. Boundary changes may have an impact also.
Another potential option is New Zealand First. Personally I think New Zealand First would be a very suitable coalition partner for National, if it wasn't led by Winston Peters. However Winston will be their leader at least into 2014 (when he will be 69). The challenge for National is that Key ruled out any deals with Peters in 2008 and 2011, and a different policy for 2014 may lack credibility. Even more challenging is that Peters is unlikely to want to deal with Key, unless it is to impose coalition terms that are so one sided, they humiliate the PM.
The Greens are never seriously going to consider a deal with National, and no would Mana. Hence, the focus goes on parties outside Parliament. Only two parties got over 0.1% of the vote, and did not get MPs. The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party got 0.5% and the Conservative Party 2.7%. Hence it is natural that they are seen as a viable option if they can get an extra 45,000 votes or win an electorate seat. I think it is unlikely they can win an electorate seat, so their aim has to be making the 5% threshold.
But as we saw this week, the Conservatives could well be a mixed blessing for National. They may be able to become a parliamentary party and potential coalition partner, but they also could scare off some voters from voting National if they think a future national-led Government is going to preaching about sin and promiscuous women.
Colin Craig started the week very well, declaring at the weekend that his preference was for National over Labour (something he refused to say in the election), and that if elected he would realise you can't lay down bottom lines in advance of a negotiation. This reassured many National supporters, and sent a message a tactical vote for the Conservatives could be a sensible thing to do.
Then the media focused on an old court case when an employee alleged compulsory weekly staff meetings at Craig's business included sermons from the bible and prayers (not disputed) and that Craig had preached that short people are the result of the sins of their parents and ancestors. That aspect was not proven, for which I am glad otherwise any children I have might be even shorter than me!
But then came Craig's comments on National's plans to provide free contraceptives to women on a benefit. He said young New Zealand women were the most promiscuous in the world and that a monogamous 70 year old woman shouldn't pay for a young woman to sleep around.
Mr Craig's effective labelling of young New Zealand women as sluts was bad enough, but the lack of any recognition that it takes two to tango, and no condemnation of young promiscuous men outraged women (and men) from across the political spectrum. Twitter, as usual, was a source of equal mixtures of outrage and humour as one man tweeted they he for one "welcomes our new promiscuous women overlords".
John Key himself came out and dissed the comments by Mr Craig. The next day he declared he was not opposed to gay marriage - something we can assume the Conservative Party is vehemently against. So even if the Conservatives can make it into Parliament, any relationship with National is likely to be rather stressful.
In summary there are not a lot of good options for National in terms of post 2014 partners, just a variety of "less bad" options. The only consolation might be that a four or five way coalition on the left might be equally unpalatable.