This time next year we will be enjoying or enduring, depending on your perspective, a full blown election campaign.

Whatever happens, the parliamentary deck will get shuffled if only because the 95,000 party votes Colin Craig's now disintegrated Conservative Party scored in 2014 will have to find a new home.

One way or another we are now in election year, or close to it, so with a year to go and with a not insignificant minor party imploding it is timely to assess the other small parties which do not seek to lead a government, but which may well decide which of Labour or National does.

Had Colin Craig's Conservative Party survived its leader's inept quixotic urges, it may well have scored the extra one percent that would have taken it into Parliament or been gifted an electorate seat by National this time to validate a sub 5% party vote.

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In terms of its party vote, Craig's Conservatives were the fifth largest party, well ahead of the parliamentary parties, Act, The Maori Party and United Future, and the clear message to wannabe new entrants is to win an electorate.

New Zealand First has done just that in the Northland by-election in which leader Winston Peters took at a canter. This means that in the unlikely event of NZ First scoring a sub five per cent party vote it will still win list seats proportionately.

This party had a successful conference in Dunedin last week and Leader Winston Peters hammered some of his familiar themes like excessive immigration and regional neglect but added some more like reducing student loan debt in return for services to the country and promoting drivers' licenses amongst young people as a way of reducing crime and enhancing work prospects.

The successful drivers' license programme in Hawke's Bay that Mr Peters mentioned is the Howard League's initiative; we are delighted to get this recognition.

A friend who attended New Zealand First's conference commented on the level of attendance (the best turn-out in years) and the number of younger people there.

New Zealand First's poll support is double what it was at the same time in the previous cycle quite possibly because some of its long held beliefs, like limiting immigration have become main stream concerns.

Despite his political longevity (in fact he's only a little older than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton) Winston never runs out of energy and will plan a hugely active year culminating in another crack at the "kingmaker" role.

The Greens were disappointed with their score of 10.7% in 2014 election. Their support seemed to fall away during the campaign period and this was quite possibly a result of the truly weird campaign period, dominated by Nicky Hager's "Dirty Politics" book and Kim Dotcom.

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Despite the retirement of co-leader Russel Norman the Greens have maintained their poll support at about their election result levels and like NZ First are seeing their issues becoming more relevant to middle New Zealand.

The drinking water contamination scandal in Hawke's Bay underlines a key Green Party issue around water quality and should be worth support, and with yet another "warmest winter or summer or year since records began" headline, climate change must be a growing concern, especially amongst younger voters.

The "memorandum of understanding" signed by the Green and Labour Parties could have far reaching effects if deals can be done around standing down Green Candidates in key electorates. The absence of a Green Party candidate in Ohariu in 2014 would have seen the defeat of National aligned Peter Dunne and the demise of his United Future Party.

Similar deals could deliver both Auckland Central and Christchurch Central to Labour.
Amongst the smaller parties, ACT has drawn considerable attention with sole MP and Leader, David Seymour, cannily making the most of opportunities to define himself from National at the same time as he's supported the government when his vote has been needed. If the ACT party vote increases in the 2017 poll, as it might, it will be at the expense of National and have no significant impact on the overall result.

The Maori Party having won five of the seven Maori electorates in 2008 is now down to just one electorate seat and a list MP.

Co-Leader, Te Ururoa Flavell won his seat of Waiariki in a three way split and validated one list MP, the other Co-Leader, Marama Fox.

The Labour Party has benefited from Hone Harawira's Mana Party splitting away from the Maori Party but could see trouble if the new Maori Party Chairman, Tuku Morgan of the pricey underpants fame, manages deals between the two parties.

With National Party support running neck and neck with the Labour/Green bloc, NZ First and the minnow parties could easily call the tune after next year's poll.

Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.