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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Peters unlikely to contest East Coast Bays

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The big risk for Winston Peters is that the battle for East Coast Bays would become a battle between him and Colin Craig for the socially conservative vote. Photo / Richard Robinson
The big risk for Winston Peters is that the battle for East Coast Bays would become a battle between him and Colin Craig for the socially conservative vote. Photo / Richard Robinson

As captivating and entertaining as such a contest would have been, Winston Peters is unlikely to throw himself feline-like into the pigeon loft and stand in Murray McCully's East Coast Bays seat.

The idea of putting himself up as the New Zealand First candidate initially seemed like a very cunning plan to disrupt the political footsie being played by Colin Craig's Conservatives and the National Party in order for the former to get a toehold in Parliament and the latter to remain in power.

But the warning bells ought to have been ringing in the New Zealand First camp after Christine Rankin, the Conservative Party's chief executive, urged Peters to "bring it on".

That was a call to arms. While not ruling out standing, Peters has wisely left any decisions until closer to nomination day.

The big risk for Peters is that the battle for East Coast Bays would become a battle between him and Craig for the socially conservative vote, rather than an argument about National manipulating the electoral system to its advantage.

Peters is not in the business of giving rivals who are after the same votes as him the means to raise their profile. When it comes to winning the seat, Peters is (for once) handicapped by his refusal to reveal his post-election intentions. East Coast Bays is one of National's safest seats. Around two-thirds of both the electorate vote and party vote in the seat went to National in 2011.

Peters would need a big chunk of the National vote to shift his way. But why would National voters back him and risk seeing him install a Labour-led government?

All Craig would need to say is "Vote Peters. Get Labour". Craig may make noises about working with Labour. But that is twaddle. He and the Labour left inhabit different planets. Moreover, if Craig propped up a Labour-led government, it would only happen once. It would be electoral death in East Coast Bays.

The other problem is that Peters would want to win the seat. Doing so would place him in the exact same position he has accused others of deliberately adopting if New Zealand First fell below the 5 per cent threshold. Coat-tailing in a word.

Perhaps worse would be to lose the electorate battle and be out of Parliament because people thought he would win the seat and they did not bother to give their party vote to New Zealand First which then fell below the threshold.

The good news for Peters is that it is becoming less likely National will extend a helping hand to Craig. If so, Peters might well be grateful the decision has been made for him.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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