Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Wily Winston strikes fatal blow

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Peter Dunne has resigned from Cabinet. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Peter Dunne has resigned from Cabinet. Photo / Mark Mitchell

This week, Winston Peters destroyed United Future. It's now obvious that John Key will only remain Prime Minister after the next election if our living Lazarus allows it.

A clumsy ruling by an inexperienced Parliament Speaker, David Carter, which allowed Peter Dunne to keep the perks and funding of a party leader - even though his party, United Future, was deregistered because of a lack of members - was a godsend for Peters. Only a wily operator would have seen the opportunity and Peters grabbed it.

NZ First stormed out of Parliament in protest. Only Labour's experienced strategist, Trevor Mallard, joined the walk-out to ensure his party got in on a winning act.

The Government scorned the theatrics but they missed the point. What every New Zealander saw leading Thursday's evening news was Dunne, with National's complicity, rorting the system of $100,000 he wasn't entitled to. Dunne lost any remaining legitimacy he had.

Peters' campaign reinforces that Dunne, like Act's John Banks, is a pretend leader of a pretend one-MP party who gets a Cabinet minister's salary and perks to buy his support.

It's an embarrassing fall for Dunne who, as Parliament's self-appointed head prefect, regularly released misbehaviour scorecards on MPs he believed fell short of ethical parliamentary behaviour.

Peters already had the Government and Dunne on the defensive, claiming Dunne had leaked confidential Cabinet material to the press. Only Peters can make an innocent man look guilty and, until Friday, I assumed Peters was only making mischief.

But as the days went on, Dunne looked evasive and shifty. The growing scuttlebutt was about whether there was merit to Peters' accusations after all.

On Friday, Dunne's world fell apart. The inquiry into the leak pointed to Dunne's guilt after he refused to hand over his emails to a reporter.

Key's understatement - "I want to believe him but ... " - summarises the situation perfectly.

If Key thinks having Dunne gone from Cabinet ends the matter, he's kidding himself. The leak was about a security issue and that's a criminal matter. Opposition leaders are queuing up demanding a police investigation. Dunne won't be able to hide his emails from the cops.

Whatever the truth, Peters has ended any chance that Dunne or his party will make it back at the next election. In fact, if Dunne is charged he won't even make it through this term as an MP.

United Future now joins Act and the Maori Party in death's waiting room. Last election, Peters rose from the dead. This week, Lazarus moved closer to being kingmaker.

- Herald on Sunday

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