Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Time of schemes and deals and election dreams

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NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo / NZ Herald
NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo / NZ Herald

It's less than a year until the next election and judging from all the talk there are set to be more deals on the table than at a Trump casino.

Sometime in January Prime Minister John Key will likely push the reset button on the longest-standing deals - the originals in Epsom and Ohariu.

In previous elections the other parties have held their nose at such things. This time they are piling in there themselves.

Deals are in gestation between Labour and the Greens, and between Mana and the Maori Party. Then there are the likelihood of deals between Labour and NZ First in Northland and possibly Whangarei should Shane Jones live up to speculation he will rise again with NZ First.

Admittedly, the latter deals are non-consensual and NZ First leader Winston Peters will rail against them.

His is the only party still in the No Deal camp. Peters operates under the Every Party for Itself model.

He was a very reluctant bride when Labour unilaterally decided to help him out in last year's Northland byelection by urging its supporters to vote for Peters instead of Willow Jean Prime, although there was a slight taint of the leader doth protest too much about it.

He will continue to be a reluctant bride in 2017 for two reasons. One, he doesn't want to owe anybody anything should he hold the balance of power. Two, railing against others' deals is another page in his playbook to tap into any Trumpesque "drain the swamp" sentiment.

The first is precisely why Labour will forge ahead with its unrequited deals despite Peters' attempts to rebuff them.

Labour and the Greens both insist they have had only preliminary discussions.

The talk of the deals they have not done relates to Auckland Central, various Maori electorates and Ohariu. In return for backing away in any electorates for Labour, the Greens are seeking a contra deal in Nelson. That has been linked to a bequest which the donor had hoped would be used in Nelson.

Such is the suspicion of dirty deals being brokered that even standard selection decisions are being seen as "deals", such as Green co-leader Metiria Turei's decision to stand in Te Tai Tonga, a seat held by Labour's Rino Tirikatene.

Greens have long stood in electorates but given the nudge to supporters to vote for a Labour candidate anyway, given they rely solely on the party vote.

But in the most marginal - Auckland Central, Ohariu and some Maori seats - that may not be enough. So the Greens could well be asked to pull candidates completely to eliminate the risk of the Greens taking Labour votes.

It is a big ask. There is a risk those voters simply won't bother to vote at all. That's why National continues to stand candidates in Epsom and Ohariu.

There is a lot more to gain for Labour than the Greens. The latter's real payback is credit in the bank should Labour be in a position to set up a Government.

That may prove to be Monopoly credit should NZ First hold the balance of power.

Little reasons that such strategising is essential to strengthen the chances of getting into government. This is largely bunkum. Winning electorate seats off your rival will not deliver the Government benches. Only the party vote can do that.

But there are two good reasons to enter into deals in electorate seats. One is survival for a supportive small party. The other is to kill off an enemy pawn to spoil your rival's chances.

National does its deals in Epsom and Ohariu to ensure the survival of its allies, David Seymour and Peter Dunne.

Labour's "deal" for Peters in Northland cut National's majority by a vote, making it harder to pass controversial legislation.

That does not apply in 2017 when the party vote will be in play.

The only electorates Labour can argue meet that case are Ohariu to try to deprive National of a support partner in Dunne and possibly the Maori electorates to stop the Maori Party gaining in numbers.

The Maori seats especially are shaping up as a Deal Bonanza. As well as the Greens and Labour jockeying so Labour can hold its seats, the Maori Party and Mana are in talks to try to get them back.

Deals should be used with surgical precision. While pragmatic, they also still reek of political opportunism. All political parties are wary of the Trump effect taking seed in New Zealand. Cynical political manoeuvrings will not help.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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