NZ First leader Winston Peters marks the two-year anniversary of saying 'yes' to Labour at his party conference this weekend. Already rumours are flying about the lengths he will go to to survive the 2020 election. The risk he will bring down the Government is low.
It was without any apparent sense of irony that NZ First leader Winston Peters declared this week he would leave Parliament only when he was bored with politics: "I'm not like some of these people who can't leave the place."
It was somewhat ridiculous given the only times Peters has left the place since 1979 were on the two occasions the voters decided they were bored with him and he was not re-elected, such as in 2008.
He always managed to claw his way back.
Most elections Peters faces the same danse macabre with the 5 per cent threshold he needs to hit to return to Parliament.
Next year will be no exception if the current poll trends remain.
Those have NZ First bobbing around between 3 and 5 per cent.
Cornered cats pick between fight or flight, and Peters has a long history with the "fight" choice in that scenario.
Today marks the two-year anniversary of the day Peters said he would side with Labour in Government and Peters will be persuading his supporters it was worth it at his party's conference.
There is less than one year before the voters can pass a verdict on that.
The predictable mutterings have started about whether NZ First will start to disrupt the Government as it moves to bolster its vote ahead of 2020.
Rumours circulating so far have included Peters holding discussions about whether to downgrade the coalition agreement to a confidence and supply agreement. The aim, apparently, would be to free Peters up to speak more freely.
That is highly unlikely because it would reek of instability and desperation.
Those are the two things Peters does not want to exude.
So when that rumour was put to Peters by the Weekend Herald, he pulled out his phone and read out the text exchange he had with the journalist who wrote that report, the veteran Richard Harman.
There were quite a few instances of the use of the letters "BS".
There are also rumours NZ First will enter a "deal" with Labour over an electorate seat – such as Northland or Te Tai Tokerau – as a safety net in case it does not get to 5 per cent.
Peters has stated time and time again that he will not do seat deals, and although Labour could unilaterally pull or rein back a candidate, it is unlikely.
The other report is that NZ First dispatched a semi-neutral emissary to sound out senior National Party MPs about the prospects of a public entente cordiale.
That may have happened, but it is highly unlikely it was at the request of Peters.
Peters has maintained a consistent "make no overtures, make no deals" stance on that matter.
Nor would National be so naïve as to think it was a genuine olive branch, rather than an attempt to allow NZ First to campaign again on the whisper and prayer that it might side with National next time round.
National MP Judith Collins said exactly that on Newshub's AM Show.
The relationship between NZ First and National is perhaps the most closely scrutinised one in Parliament.
In 2017, it was not National which drummed NZ First down from the heights of more than 10 per cent in the polls to its final result of 7 per cent.
It was Labour – or at least the rise of Jacinda Ardern as Labour leader.
Having lost a few points in the polls in the election as Labour-leaning voters went back to Ardern, NZ First proceeded to lose a few more after the election by siding with Labour – sending National-friendly voters out the door as well.
The recent leaks and departures from NZ First to set up a new party – the Prosperity Party – are some evidence of those in NZ First who favoured a National government.
Now NZ First needs them back.
Talk that National and NZ First are engaged in mortal combat is somewhat over-exaggerated.
In 2011 and in 2008, Key ruled out any governing arrangement with NZ First well before the election campaign. It helped ensure Peters' demise in 2008.
Early next year, Simon Bridges will say whether he will do the same.
Bridges is not in the same position as Key was but his party is. It is still polling in the 40s. There is still a strong chance Peters will be kingmaker again.
In the end pragmatism is sometimes forced by election results, so there are efforts among other NZ First MPs to ensure that links with National are not completely soured.
National MPs who keep these ties up include Todd McClay, who is close to Peters, Todd Muller, and Mark Mitchell. NZ First's Tracey Martin also has a constructive relationship with Paula Bennett.
The other potential issue for NZ First as it heads to 2020 is Peters' court case against Bennett and Anne Tolley over the alleged leak of his superannuation overpayments.
That goes to court next month. The memory of 2008 will be ringing loudly for NZ First's MPs. Peters loves to play the wronged man card and his core supporters lap it up.
But the worst scenario for NZ First is that it drives Peters into siege mentality mode, as happened in 2008.
Peters got so caught up defending claims about donations and a Privileges Committee hearing into a donation from billionaire Sir Owen Glenn that it effectively derailed his entire campaign – and took the party down with him.
Those who watched on in 2008 believe Peters had learned from that when to simply walk away from such an issue.
If that court case does not pan out as Peters hopes, it will not only damage him but could damage the party further.
It puts Peters into a situation of losing even if he wins.
That is because it will inevitably result in probing as to how the over-payments happened in the first place – including whether Peters had ticked the wrong box on his superannuation application form.
Thus far, it has been revealed that he missed an opportunity to correct the mistake of being paid the rate of a single person, rather than the lower rate for someone in a de facto relationship.
But the question is still hanging as to how the original mistake was made.
The Greens' message to voters in 2020 will be that it is within coo-ee of being able to form a Government with Labour alone, dispensing of the "handbrake" of NZ First.
NZ First's main campaign line will be that only it can stop that very same scenario happening. Its way of distinguishing itself from Labour will be to apply the handbrake even more firmly.
The next year will see it push back on Labour-Greens measures, particularly those that impact on rural communities and business.
Peters will also drive home the NZ First policies that he could not get Labour to sign up for – such as on immigration and law and order.
Any disintegration of the Coalition is highly unlikely.
But nor will there be much cosying up.
Earlier last week, Peters went to the Labour-friendly Council of Trade Unions meeting to speak for the first time in a long time.
He did not bother to sing along to Solidarity Forever.