Matt McCarten: Extent of success only real query

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John Key was always going to win this election, the only question was by how much. His two coalition partners, Act and United Future, were always going to be returned.

Because his coalition partners had electorate MPs they were guaranteed to return to Parliament if National didn't gather enough votes to govern alone.

Helen Clark could have found a way through only if the Greens had got well over 5 per cent and Winston Peters, by some miracle, had got over the threshold. There was no chance of Peters winning Tauranga, nor his colleague Ron Mark taking Rimutaka.

Jim Anderton at best was only going to get one more seat. That required Clark, ironically, to have the Maori Party in all seven Maori seats if she were to have any hope. NZ First haven't made it, and the Maori Party didn't win all the seats they needed.

The result was pretty much how the polls predicted, and Key, after a very short time in Parliament, is the new prime minister.

Although the centre-right bloc only holds a small majority over the centre-left, Key has huge moral authority given that his party, under an MMP election, won close to half of the country-wide votes.

Under the old first past the post system it would have been a landslide. As it was, Labour lost several electorate seats.

Labour's liberal vote split between the newly centrist National Party and the left-wing Greens and they have been forced back to their working-class constituency.

Labour wasn't that unpopular, and economically they have probably been our best government in living memory, but Key was able to convince people it was time for change for change itself and his careful centrist positioning won over enough soft votes to bring him and his right-wing colleagues to the Treasury benches.

The worldwide recession is about to hit our economy and after a decade of growth and prosperity it will be interesting to see how the National Party will manage it.

If they think for one minute that Roger Douglas is going to sit in the backbenches and be a good boy they only need to look at what happened to Labour in 1984.

The question is whether Key can keep the instincts of the right-wing of his own party and Roger Douglas in check. If he doesn't, his government will be a disaster and will be out in three years.

Clark and Cullen have been a formidable team and Key and Bill English have a lot of catch-up to do to be able to take on the challenge. Key has promised a more inclusive and moderate government than Don Brash promised last election. We shall see.

- Herald on Sunday

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