Peter Dunne's decision to pull out of the election ends a unique career in New Zealand politics. No other MP in modern time has managed to straddle our party politics as he has, using the very fine margins of MMP to serve in Labour and National governments. While many might consider him a mere opportunist he saw his role as a moderator of governments and a force for continuity and stability.
As a junior partner in governments he kept his differences with the major party out of the public eye. He could be very stubborn when his single vote in Parliament was crucial. But for him, the present Government would have amended the Resource Management Act long ago to give the economy equal weight with the environment in resource consents.
Perhaps only in a Wellington seat could a solitary politician of Dunne's serious policy persuasion prosper. He won Ohariu (formerly Karori) for Labour in 1984, helped by Sir Robert Jones standing against an incumbent National minister. By the time the fourth Labour government fell six years later, Dunne had made the seat his own, holding it against the landslide to National in 1990. As the mood of the country moved against both major parties and adopted MMP in 1993, Dunne was one of several MPs who moved out of the big parties to form their own in preparation for proportional representation.
Of them, only Dunne and Winston Peters have survived. Both have been able to align themselves with governments of both sides. Peters formed the first MMP coalition with National in 1996. Dunne had to wait until Labour was back in office. Helen Clark turned to Dunne after the 2002 election when her first coalition partner, the Alliance, was wiped out.
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Dunne will look back on the 2002 election as the high point in his career. The Labour government was looking for a second term, National was at a low ebb and there were plenty of floating votes available for minor parties. Dunne's United Future attracted a good many of them, thanks to a then novel television device, a "worm", that tracked high support for his measured, moderate comments on most issues. For a while he luxuriated in the label, "Mr Common Sense".
Remarkably, Dunne has been in every government since 2002, as a minister outside the Cabinet. When the Clark government fell in 2008 he readily came to a similar arrangement with John Key. Nobody has more experience with the way multi-party government has evolved in New Zealand's political environment. Formal coalitions have not worked for long, minority government that leaves partners free to vote independently on issues except confidence and supply have endured better.
Dunne has always enabled the party winning the most seats at an election to form a government but a poll has suggested the voters of Ohariu feel his 33 years in the seat are enough. His departure deprives National of a vote that might have been crucial again. He can be proud of the balance he has brought to our politics and his insight to successive governments could make his memoirs unusually valuable.