Perhaps New Zealand deserves to have Winston Peters presiding over the outcome of the election, given the lies National proffered to wrest momentum from Labour and retain its position as front-runner to form the next government.

Claims there was an $11.7 billion hole in Labour's accounts, and that Labour intended to increase income tax, were both amply shown to be false.

No economist supported the fiscal hole claim, and the advertising standards authority ruled the income tax claim was false advertising.

Yet the ads continued to play and National's inner circle continued to defend and repeat those untruths again and again.


Given it's said the state of the economy - meaning, what goes into or out of people's pockets - is the most important facet of any election, this was a calculated attempt to besmirch Labour where it hurt most.

Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby calls it the dead cat tactic: throw one on to the table and everyone talks about nothing else. The timing of this particular dead cat halted Jacindamania in its tracks.

National deserved to lose after being caught lying. Instead, it won the most votes.

And while TV3's Duncan Garner spent election night blathering about the "moral authority" of National, as the biggest party to form a government, like its voters this ignores the fact it had failed to demonstrate any moral compass.

Credible and responsible government? I think not.

Of course that's not the only reason National is currently sitting pretty atop the pile, waiting to see what Winston Peters will demand of it.

The collapse of the Green vote, ironically over a similar issue of ethics, coupled with the ousting of the Maori Party from Parliament, spoiled any chance of Labour and the Greens being able to form a working coalition without NZ First.

It also didn't help that the two left-wing parties spent the campaign at arm's length instead of as the bosom buddies they presented beforehand.

Labour quickly distanced itself over the Metiria Turei affair when it might have at least shown sympathy, while if the Greens had stood aside instead of hotly contesting Nelson, Labour could have removed its symbolic nemesis Environment Minister Nick Smith from office. These are scars that will take some time to heal.

The other major factor was the inability to interest more non-voters to engage in the process. Sure, overall enrolments and votes cast went up about 1 per cent, which is good, but still almost a quarter of New Zealanders elected not to have their say in how we're governed.

Given the "anti-system" bloc - people who maintain voting only validates a system that is inherently broken - continues to gain support, it is a fair call to imagine that if those "antis" did in fact vote it would be for change.

Thus their inexplicable stance hurts the Left more than the Right. And certainly the Right rallied under threat this time; National's numbers were likely "Peak Bill", as one analyst termed it.

With 50,000 more special votes to be counted than last election things may alter by perhaps two seats before all's done and dusted, but this won't make enough difference.

The Left needed the vaunted "youthquake" to happen and it fell flat.

So the big question - what happens now - is one only perennial kingmaker Winston Peters can answer.

Let's face it, no one else likes Winston, and that's mostly mutual. Whichever side he backs will face a tough and awkward term, and likely pay a price for that next time.

If I were he I would be tempted to stand aside and play it on merits. Give National, as the incumbent, confidence and supply, but vote everything else purely on policy.

That way he'd have the luxury of supporting both sides of the coin - stability and change - as it suited him, which in practice might satisfy most of us.

Certainly accepting a deal with National is a poisoned chalice. Having lost any moral high ground it pretended to, and with Ardern clearly a PM-in-waiting, NZ First - likely to lose the boss himself to age next time - would then be decimated.

Winston wants more of a legacy, and it's his chance to leave one; the choices everyone makes in these next 2-3 weeks will affect our political landscape for a decade to come.

■Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.
Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's.