John Armstrong on politics
John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: At last, the polls show Peters their good side

Winston Peters. Photo / Natalie Slade
Winston Peters. Photo / Natalie Slade

Some irony. The opinion polls which Winston Peters has long slammed as not worth the paper they are printed on are fast becoming his salvation.

The increase in support for New Zealand First in four separate polls this week is a trickle - not a surge. But it has electrified the campaign. And it could yet alter the dynamics of the election .

The talk around the election traps yesterday was of nothing else. With the latest Roy Morgan poll registering New Zealand First at 4.5 per cent, things got so carried away that the anti-MMP lobby group, Vote for Change, was warning Peters was about to reprise the country's worst political nightmare by resuming the role of kingmaker.

What the polls have done is elevate Peters from also-ran to parliamentary contender. The first dividend from that switch is TVNZ's decision to include Peters in next Wednesday's minor party leaders' debate.

Other media will also now pay him far more attention. The odds have tipped in favour of New Zealand First breaking through the 5 per cent threshold.

If that happens, the party will have seven MPs and post-election calculations could alter significantly. If Peters bites into National's support, he could leave John Key needing more than just Act and Peter Dunne to govern.

The question then is whether the Maori Party MPs - if re-elected - will stick with National for another three years. National is confident they will. Otherwise Key will have to try to lure the Greens into some arrangement.

The Prime Minister has long made it absolutely clear he will not work with Peters. The NZ First leader's latest response is that if National will not deal with him, he will not deal with anyone - be it National, Labour, the Greens or the Maori Party.

New Zealand First would instead sit on the Opposition benches - a position which Peters claims is not powerless.

It would be easy to misread this positioning as typical Peters' posturing. But Key's rebuff left New Zealand First in an extremely weak position by effectively roping the party to Labour.

The upshot would have been that those on centre-left would have ignored New Zealand First and voted Labour, while those on the centre-right would have worked out that a vote for New Zealand First would be a vote for a Labour-led Government .

Peters had to cut himself loose. Key might say he will not work with him. Peters is punting on winning enough seats to force Key to work with him.

But Peters has to get elected first. To get traction, he has seized on issues such as Maori separatism and the emissions trading scheme where he sees National as out of kilter with conservative public opinion.

The question is whether Key has devoted too much attention to squeezing Labour out of the vote-rich centre-ground and left himself exposed on his right to Peters' rehashing of a more traditional quasi-National Party brand.

- NZ Herald

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