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Matt McCarten: Minor parties will determine who governs

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Matt McCarten. Photo / Supplied.
Matt McCarten. Photo / Supplied.

Let's do a bit of crystal ball gazing ahead of the 2011 general election.

The conventional wisdom of John Key and his party being a shoo-in for a return to the Treasury benches this year is based on pretty convincing polls and performance in contrast to a lacklustre Phil Goff.

However, even with huge poll leads of up to 20 percentage points over Labour, nothing can be taken for granted due to the nature of MMP.

A five-point drop by National over the next few months, which I think is realistic, changes everything. Even if Labour was 15 points behind National on election day, Goff could still win the prime ministership.

Under MMP, we need to see all the parliamentary parties in two blocs - a centre-right led by National and a centre-left led by Labour. Who gets to rule as Prime Minister is determined by which bloc dominates - not whether National gets more votes than Labour. The fortunes of the minor parties will determine the winner this year.

National's irritating partner, Act, was able to bring five MPs in last election after Rodney Hide was gifted Epsom by National. This has allowed Key to have five reliable votes he needs to pass his right-wing policies. When Act won't play ball on any moderate policy, he can always count on the Maori Party to push it through for him.

Frankly, it's a scenario made in heaven for Key.

But after this year's election, this is almost certain to change.

Act has been a disgrace and it's hard to see them getting more than a couple of seats this time. That's assuming Key can convince the good conservatives to vote for Hide as their local constituent MP again. There are rumblings on the right that a new party should represent them since Act's implosion. If that does happen, there is a real chance the meagre non-National right-wing will wipe themselves out.

That, of course, means National will have to rely on Peter Dunne and the Maori Party to prop them up for another term.

Both scenarios are unreliable.

Dunne has always proved to be an opportunist. But I think his constituency of Ohariu Belmont are starting to get sick of him. Labour came a close second last election and I reckon it's an even chance that he could lose the seat this time around.

The Maori Party may well be the kingmakers after election day. Although their supporters currently give them the benefit of the doubt given National doesn't rely on their vote to keep them in government, this will change after the next election - particularly if their vote will determine who the government will be. I have little doubt grassroots pressure will make it likely they'll throw in their lot with Labour.

Although Labour's most reliable ally Jim Anderton will retire this year, the Greens have clearly established themselves as a permanent force under MMP. Labour will never govern without them and they both know it. Even now, the two parties between them come within five points of National on a good day and 10 points on a bad day.

But the real unknown this year is, of course, Elvis himself - Winston Peters. He has a real chance. Who could have imagined that this guy could pip 5 per cent and be back in the boxing ring? If he pulls it off, he'd have to go down as the political Houdini of all time.

If Peters could take equal amounts of votes from National as well as Labour, he should decide Goff's future. I certainly have no doubt Peters will go with Labour if he gets in.

While it's certainly a long shot for Goff and his party, it isn't impossible.

That's why, if Goff keeps slugging away and Labour doesn't do something stupid like try a leadership coup, there's still an off-chance that Goff could beat Key.

And that possibility makes politics this year very interesting.

- Herald on Sunday

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