John Key's announcement this week that he will not be part of any Government that includes Winston Peters can be seen as a deliberate and audacious political ploy or part of his straightforward "what you see is what you get" style.

In reality, it is both, because in politics, everything is calculated. As comedian George Burns said of comedy, "the secret ... is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made".

Key's gee-shucks persona, which eschews calculated media management, can be risky - discussing women he finds hot with a radio presenter would have been ill-advised even if that presenter had not been convicted of injuring his partner with reckless disregard - but it is part of Key's clever strategy to appear to have no clever strategy.

The same may be said of his announcing the election date so early in the year - Prime Ministers typically wait until the last constitutionally acceptable moment. But regardless of his motives, he is to be commended for removing an uncertainty from the calendar in what promises to be a busy spring.

In ruling out a National-led Government supported by NZ First, Key is nothing if not consistent. In the run-up to the 2008 election, he ruled out engaging in post-election coalition talks with the party, which was at the time mired in controversy about donations.

The police and the Serious Fraud Office both cleared Peters of any illegal behaviour but the damage to his electoral prospects was done; predictably, he blamed the media, but the plain fact was that the man who had spent his entire political career demanding accountability from others refused to practise what he preached.

That was then; this is now. NZ First has been stirring from hibernation in recent weeks and Peters - absurdly dubbed a potential election kingmaker in a poll in another Sunday newspaper almost a year out from the vote - has begun his traditional election-year diatribes, bidding to return to the political stage and hoping that enough voters have short enough memories to give him another chance.

Key's announcement has not necessarily spiked Peters' guns, but it has given voters a stark choice. "If Winston Peters holds the balance of power," he said this week, "it will be a Phil Goff-led Labour government."

In fact, voters already had a stark choice: do they want to return to the style of politics that Peters represents? For a return it would be, in the sense of being a seriously retrograde step.

Any dispassionate survey of Peters' career puts one in mind of the apocryphal mother watching a parade and proudly proclaiming that everyone is out of step except her son.

He has done more than any other single person to bring MMP into disrepute, dawdling through post-election talks in 1996 before going with National - which he had vowed he would never do - and falling out with Jenny Shipley, who sacked him.

After saying he would spurn the baubles of office, he took the Foreign Affairs portfolio in a Labour-led administration. But he proved a liability in that coalition too, and Labour only refused to disown him because he offered them their only chance of political survival in 2008.

He is a skilled practitioner of divisive demagoguery, using alarmist and inflammatory language, in particular to cynically foment feeling against immigrants.

He introduced a vituperative sourness to political discourse which most New Zealanders found distasteful. Last, and by no means least, his hysterical hostility to media scrutiny has always been a bad look for a man who professes a commitment to transparency.

The voters of Tauranga, whose support threw Peters a lifeline in 2002 to drag the party over the five per cent threshold, have since turned their backs on him. Theirs is an example that the electorate as a whole should follow.

The country has moved on from the kind of politics in which Peters and his party specialise. He has not been missed - and his return would not be welcome.