Commenting on National’s strategy after the 2008 election, Steven Joyce said the first principle of campaigning was ‘Don’t go fighting the last war.’ No re-run of the “teapot tapes’ fiasco is presumably the reason for John Key’s early announcement of the parties National could go into government with, might go into government with, and would not go into government with. In doing so, I think Key and Joyce have made a major strategic mistake.
The have framed the 2014 campaign as a contest between two blocs; National and a raggle-taggle on the one hand, and Labour/Greens on the other, with Winston Peters’ New Zealand First as the swing player. In doing so they have given away National’s trump card for gaining Winston’s support.
“Support the largest party” was always going to be the strongest argument pushing Peters towards National after this coming election. But the situation in 2014 will be very different from 1996, when Winston previously played this role. He will give absolutely nothing away till the fat lady has sung, but he knows from bitter experience how slippery is the National Party welcome mat.
But if the election is between two different blocs, then the question for him becomes which bloc has the policies that are most compatible. New Zealand First’s economic nationalism is a much more comfortable fit for Labour and the Greens than National’s sell-it-away. And I don’t agree with others on this site that Winston and New Zealand First leads to instability.
In the first instance any arrangement is very unlikely to be a formal coalition as in 1996. That lesson will have been learnt. Also Winston and Labour in 2005 were much more stable than New Zealand First and National in 1996.
All the upcoming instability is likely to be on the other side. Seeing Peter Dunne and John Banks prop up unpopular policies like asset sales has not been edifying. Their replacements look no better. What this indicates however is that National is not that confident that its vote will hold up. And it assumes that New Zealand First will be back in Parliament.