Just when the fog swirling around the political landscape looks like clearing and you can begin to define a horizon, a sudden change in temperature makes things murkier again.

Here we were, heading into election year thinking it was a straight contest between National plus United Future and the Conservatives replacing Act on one side, and Labour plus the Greens on the other, and suddenly there are doors opening and spanners getting thrown all over the place.

John Key is back to doing what he does best: acting savvy with snappy one-liners about the lack of cohesion in his opposition, cunningly deflecting criticism of his own party for appearing just as dishevelled.

In reality Key is running scared; as much as he might like to dismiss the asset sale referendum result, it's clearly had an impact on his strategy.


How else to interpret his careful invitation to New Zealand First to be part of the next government? It's the gambit of a worried man, anxious lest the public think he won't have the numbers without widening his choice of partners.

Winston Peters may be the silver surfer, but sucking up to him is a perilous option, as former PMs Bolger and Clarke could attest. And going from no chance to a small chance - which in politics means every chance - of working with NZ First may cost National more than it gains; too many voters see Peters as an anathema.

Especially those on the "fringe" - the folk not blue-rinsed by birth, but only by the accident of acquired wealth. And those are the votes that swing.

Perhaps the most ironic twist is NZ First is dead set against selling state assets. But if National offloads all it wants to before the election, that will cease to be an impediment to negotiations.

On the other side of the fence, Labour's new leader, David Cunliffe, is clearly having trouble uniting the party's diverse factions and consequently is making concessions one suspects go against his grain.

After all, he is the new breed of socialist, harking back to the workers' struggles against exploitation that coalesced in the party's formation. Or so he'd have us believe.

But accepting deep sea oil drilling while merely tinkering with safety issues, or only attacking the opacity of the process and not the substance of the TPPA, shows the bluer reds still wield serious clout - enough Labour may again court being labelled National-lite.

Key's reaction was instructive: He spent more words belittling the Greens and gleefully pointing up the rift the oil policy change would cause than attacking Labour directly.

Of course the Greens are the bogeymen, for one simple reason: They're right.

They might be mocked as "loony left", but they're really a pro-environment party with a social conscience. So unless simply having a social conscience is left wing, it's a false label: you can be any political colour and support the environment.

That's what scares all the other parties, including the "blue browns" of the Maori Party: a Green future implies real change, not just tinkering and shadow-plays. They'll stop at nothing to prevent that change, because a Green future makes them all redundant.

Cue Kim Dotcom and his Internet Party. He's not just having fun, or acting out of pique; a man who donates serious money to a John Banks electoral campaign is a member of the rabid right, regardless of his pretensions to be some sort of people's online champion.

Which party will votes from his demographic hurt most? The Greens.

Yep, doors and spanners. And it's only January.

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.