Alliance minister Laila Harre had good reason for her hands to be shaking with nerves as she stopped to talk to reporters before the Alliance caucus yesterday.

The party as she knows it will be over soon and she will be thrust out of the shadows into a new role.

Here's the most likely scenario.


Within a few weeks, Laila Harre is very likely to be forced out of the Cabinet. After that she will lead the faction of the Alliance that will fight this year's election as "The Alliance".

On side will be party president Matt McCarten and most of the governing council, and fellow MPs Willie Jackson and Liz Gordon.

Leader Jim Anderton will say he cannot fight the next election with the "white-anters" who are undermining his constructive role in the Government.

He will be leading a faction that will fight the next election under another name - something like "The Alliance in Government".

On side will be six other present MPs, Sandra Lee, Matt Robson, Phillida Bunkle, Kevin Campbell and Democrats Grant Gillon and John Wright, and at least a couple of thousand Democrats members.

Extending the name rather than changing it makes sense. Mr Anderton will be able to keep to his present script about the achievements of the "Alliance in Government" (as distinct from the oppositionist Alliance) and rebrand at the same time.

Both factions will continue to support the Labour-led Government. They will share the same name until the election, but will not be able to function as a single caucus.

It would then be untenable for Ms Harre, being in a different faction to Mr Anderton, to keep her Cabinet post.

All this will unfold fairly rapidly in a neatly timed plan.

A month ago, sounding like the Dalai Lama, Mr Anderton said he wanted "a period of reflection" to consider his future with the party.

That bought him time to plan and to ensure that the inevitable split does not eclipse Helen Clark's White House meeting.

Prime ministers don't like their moments in the Oval Office being upstaged, as National whip John "Hone" Carter can testify. The uproar over his call to John Banks' radio talkback show impersonating a Maori pushed Jim Bolger's meeting with Bill Clinton off the front pages and Mr Bolger's patience to cracking point.

Helen Clark returns from the United States at Easter.

After that the flag's up on the Alliance. Mr Anderton will announce his decision in the week or two after Easter.

He wrote to 5000 members at the weekend seeking their views. They have a two-week deadline to tick the boxes and effectively decide between positive or negative, good or evil.

The letters are addressed to members but their responses won't change the outcome.

The letter is a publicity exercise aimed at the 159,859 people who voted Alliance in the last election.

Mr Anderton has to build broader sympathy for what he is about to do.

The voting public has to believe he had no choice, that he was a victim of oppositionists in his party with whom he cannot work next time.

But the leftists are making martyrdom hard work for him.

They insist they want him as leader, they have endorsed his commitment to a long-term coalition relationship with Labour, they have no policy disagreements.

Mr Anderton does really not want their affection, not this late. From his viewpoint, the best thing the leftists can do besides taking a running leap is to start attacking him.

That will help him enormously. Within a few weeks he will give them ample reason.