Over the past 27 years, United Future leader Peter Dunne has earned a reputation as Parliament's greatest survivor, but whether he can last past this election remains uncertain.

The 57-year-old's political cachet has gradually run down, and his Ohariu seat majority slipped to just 1000 in the last election.

He is now battling to retain the seat in the face of another strong challenge from Labour's Charles Chauvel, though he might be helped by an unofficial accommodation from National, which has indicated it will focus on the party vote not the electorate race.

United Future's share of the vote was chopped to 2.67 per cent in 2005 and again to 0.87 in the 2008 election, leaving Mr Dunne its sole representative in Parliament.


But, despite struggling below 1 per cent in polls over the past few months, United Future is far from rolling over - predicting a win of up to five seats.

Should that hope become a reality, an array of relatively unknown candidates would follow Mr Dunne into Parliament; among them nzfishing.com creator Doug Stevens, and Rob Eaddy, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Jim Bolger, and later to Mr Dunne.

Since entering Parliament as Labour's Ohariu MP in 1984, Mr Dunne's pragmatic brand of politics has enabled him to survive when many predicted his defeat.

In 2002, United Future was sitting at about 0.5 per cent in the polls when Mr Dunne turned a televised leadership debate appearance into triumph.

Pledging common sense, Mr Dunne found favour with viewers, and overnight United First became a serious player in the election campaign.

Within weeks, the party went on to win 6.69 per cent of the vote, earning eight seats in Parliament.

Mr Dunne has enjoyed a most unusual parliamentary career, swapping sides several times to govern with both National and Labour.

Quite apart from his ability to constantly sit at the winners' table, Mr Dunne can claim some significant political victories.

Getting the go-ahead for the Transmission Gully motorway north of Wellington, bringing in the Payroll Giving scheme, and introducing legislation for income sharing between couples for tax purposes and a game animal council are among the achievements the party can claim over the last term.

Income sharing remains a hot election issue for United Future, and Mr Dunne is pushing the message that the law change will ensure "fairness and choice" - the party's apparent catch-cry for this election.

United Future is also emphasising the importance of New Zealand's great outdoors, and committing itself to public access to all resources in law.

It will also seek an immediate ban on the use of 1080.

The record:
* 2008: Retained the Ohariu seat, although his majority was reduced to just 1000, and he was the only United Future MP returned to Parliament. The party went into coalition with National.

* 2005: United Future returned three MPs to Parliament after winning 2.67 of the vote, and went into coalition with Labour and the Progressives.

* 2002: Shortly before the election, United New Zealand merged with Future New Zealand to form United Future New Zealand. The party won 6.69 per cent of the vote, bringing eight MPs into Parliament..

* 1996: Returned to Parliament as only New Zealand United MP.

* 1994: Split from Labour and established the Future New Zealand party, which merged with a group of Labour and National defectors to form New Zealand United.

* 1984: Peter Dunne comes into Parliament as a Labour MP after winning Ohariu seat.

In their own words: Peter Dunne
* On being a party's sole MP: "It's a lot harder, you just don't have the resources. We can't really get involved in parliamentary debates because once I've spoken, that's it. On the other hand, the things I've been able to achieve in my ministerial and other roles sort of compensate for that."

* On the poor poll results: "We are quietly confident that we'll do far better than a number of the published polls. We were tantalisingly close last time to retaining a second MP, we think we can do that this time. We're certainly looking to a third or fourth, and maybe a fifth is not out of the question."

* On the party's focus on Ohariu: "In the absence of crossing the 5 per cent threshold, I am the threshold. Because we're focused in that area, you could argue that it does diminish attention from elsewhere."

* On post-election co-operation possibilities: "We've worked very closely and very well with National in the last three years, and obviously welcome the opportunity to do so again. Labour's policies in the taxation area, for instance, roll back a lot of the things that I've worked to achieve over the last 20 years, and I think that is a significant obstacle."

* On income sharing: "It's important that people have choice over how they spend their own money, and income sharing would give them a number of choices in that respect, particularly in matters around whether one parent stays at home to take care of kids. I see this as very much unfinished business. I'm very pleased the bill's still alive; while I want to see it passed, my view is it's going to have to be part of a bigger picture discussion."