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RICHARD PREBBLE: Labour could get a third term

Under MMP a party does not need to win the election to become government.

Labour could reform its coalition of the losers.

Winston Peters has "most definitely" ruled out working with Labour which means he probably would.

Relations between Bolger and Peters were poisonous. Bolger had sacked Peters and expelled him from the National Party. To everyone’s’ surprise after the election Winston and Jim were best buddies.

Jacinda Ardern never criticizes Winston Peters. He never criticizes her.

If Peters cared what the voters want then in 1996 he would have gone with Helen Clark and in 2017 with Bill English. Winston will do whatever is good for Winston.

Peters could not go in coalition with either Clark or English because they are both very principled. Helen Clark would not have the Greens in her ministry, too extreme. Bill English would never have agreed to the pork barrel politics of New Zealand First’s Provincial Growth Fund.

Christopher Luxon may not know it but he could never work with Winston Peters. Luxon sacked his agriculture spokesperson because she made personal representations to the Minister of Agriculture. MPs have always been able to see ministers regarding their personal situation. The Minister himself said there was no apparent conflict of interest.

How would Luxon react if he found his Minister of Racing’s party was receiving substantial undeclared donations from wealthy businessmen with connections to the racing industry?

Any coalition between the non-drinking, early to bed, Luxon and the most famous late night customer of the Green Parrot would not last.

Winston Peters knows he can only be a minister again in coalition with the flexible Jacinda Ardern.

In the last poll of the year Labour was on 33% which would translate into 42 seats. The Greens were on 8%, 7 seats. The Maori Party would have 3 seats. The 52 seats are 9 seats short of a majority.

New Zealand First was on 4%, close to the magic 5% to trigger 6 or 7 list seats.

For the coalition of the losers to be successful Labour needs to keep National’s support to fewer than 40% and to slash Act’s 11% support.

Labour’s strategy is to say National has no policy and to label Christopher Luxon as an out of touch rich corporate executive.

According to a loose lipped staffer in the PM’s office, Labour intends to demonize the Act party. I have experienced being demonized. Every Labour MP and their allies will say Act’s policy to cut waste in government is code to defund our hospitals, schools and welfare system. Labour will claim that Act’s opposition to government policy based on race is racist.

The Herald poll indicates these attacks on National and Act are not enough to prevent the center right from winning. It is Jacinda’s popularity that is falling and Christopher’s that is rising. It is not credible to say National has no policy while attacking National’s policy of boot camps for repeat ram raiders.

It is very difficult to make a successful attack on a politician who is more credible than the accusers. For some time voters have told pollsters that David Seymour is the country’s most trusted MP. Act’s policy of giving people control over their education, health and welfare is the opposite of defunding.

The personal attacks on Act’s Maori MPs calling them “useless Maori” and “vanilla” Maori has backfired. Voters do not believe Act’s long standing opposition to co-governance as unworkable is motivated by racism.

For the coalition of the losers to win Labour needs Winston Peters to pull voters from National and Act.

Winston is providing that help. He has abandoned his stance to be the kingmaker. Peters’ statement that he will not work with Labour is designed to attract National and Act supporters. Peters knows he only needs to attract relatively few center right voters to break the 5% threshold and National and Act’s lead disappears.

Peters has left himself wriggle room to go into coalition with Labour. He has refused to say he would work with National. He would justify crowning Jacinda again by saying “this time I won’t be lied to”.

A coalition of the losers could steal the election. Will it work?

If the National caucus remains disciplined and has some sensible policy the party’s support will break 40%.

If Act continues to offer practical positive solutions Labour’s attempts to demonize Act will fail.

Political machinations have a marginal effect on elections compared to the economy. It is the cost of living, crime, failing health services and 7% plus mortgages that will sweep Labour away.

The two by-elections indicate there is a mood for change. Voters who want a change of government will not risk another coalition of the losers by voting for the man who crowned Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister.

The Honourable Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.

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