The downfall and disgrace of John Banks may have seemed
the story of the week. But the Epsom MP was already history -
ancient history, in fact.
Of far more note, though much less entertaining, was the
increasingly odd behaviour of other politicians. The pressure
is mounting before the opening of the official election
It is not just a question of readiness in an organisational
sense. It is starting to dawn on Opposition parties that
whatever they do in the next 100 or so days before election
day, the polls may well not budge.
That would be good news for National. But the absence of
allies who can win seats means the margin for National
between victory and defeat is so slim that even a tiny shift
in support in the polls could be catastrophic.
A further complicating factor in an already complicated
election has been the entry stage-left of the Internet Mana
party. Nerves are starting to frazzle across the political
spectrum. Mild panic seems to be setting in.
Labour has pulled up the drawbridge and is refusing to even
engage, let alone co-operate, with other parties.
The Greens seem to be flirting with policies which would have
them positioned more to their right. However, they are still
insisting any post-election deal with National remains highly
unlikely. National, meanwhile, is getting more edgy about
whether it can retain power.
The initial thinking was that its comfortable domination of
the centre and centre-right would not be affected by the
creation of the Internet Mana party, which judging by the
political hue of the personnel on board, would be fighting
for headroom on the left.
On further reflection, however, Internet Mana poses a real
threat to National. It is not just that Hone Harawira, Laila
Harre and company might carve out new territory by appealing
to young non-voters and thus could expand the Left's share of
the vote. The far bigger danger to National is that Internet
Maori wipes the floor in the Maori seats and obliterates the
National may enjoy a big lead over Labour in the polls. But
as oft-stated, it is the margin between the right and left
blocs that matters. That margin remains extremely tight. Any
slight wavering in support for National would see the party
requiring more than United Future's Peter Dunne to hold his
Ohariu seat and Act New Zealand's David Seymour to be given a
free run in Epsom.
Unfortunately for National, United Future has no realistic
hope of registering a party vote anywhere near high enough to
enable a second MP to ''coat-tail'' into Parliament under the
one electorate seat threshold loophole.
As for Act, Jamie Whyte has done much in terms of getting the
party focusing again on its basic ideology. But Act's image
is too tarnished to produce the turnaround in fortunes within
the limited time left until the election.
That leaves relying on the Maori Party. If it makes it back
into Parliament, signing up with National for a third time
would be the kiss of death. But the odds on the party holding
any of its three seats look increasingly bleak.
The party's poor showing in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election -
it came third behind Labour and Mana - was a wake-up call.
But Te Ururoa Flavell has yet to make any real impression as
co-leader. The party seems to be drifting in the wake of the
retirements of Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples. Its
parliamentary survival now hinges on Labour and Internet Mana
splitting the anti-Maori Party vote such that it comes though
Given the destruction of the Maori Party would make things
very difficult for National, Labour's refusal to reach a
mutually satisfactory accommodation with Internet Mana is
puzzling. Instead of giving himself the flexibility to strike
such a deal at any stage in the run-up to election day - the
case with John Key with respect to Colin Craig's Conservative
Party - David Cunliffe wants to stymie electoral
accommodations by promising to abolish the one electorate
No law, however, can stop National hinting to its supporters
to give Messrs Dunne and Seymour an easy ride into Parliament
via their electorates, thereby creating an ''overhang'' which
is of mathematical advantage to National in trying to secure
Mr Cunliffe's campaign may be principled in ending a
longstanding rort on the electoral system. But Mr Cunliffe is
fighting the 2014 election - not the 2017 one. However, he is
justified in worrying that any arrangement with Internet Mana
will not only see Labour shedding votes to that party in the
Maori seats, but more importantly in the general ones as
Moreover, the flagging of other potential coalition partners
by Labour risks only benefiting those minor parties because
voters would feel they can vote for those parties in the
knowledge they are not undermining the centre-left's chances
of putting a government together. The problematic
relationship between the Greens and New Zealand First is a
further reason to avoid foreclosing on options.
Just as Mr Key is wary of the dangers of getting too cosy
with Colin Craig, Labour also does not want to find itself
being seriously embarrassed by some of Mr Harawira's
outbursts. But Labour is taking an even harder line by
denying its potential support partners the oxygen of
This reached extreme proportions in Labour's initial refusal
to comment on the Greens' plan to introduce a carbon tax.
Such behaviour is creating an information vacuum regarding
the likely direction of a centre-left government. Such
negativity offers no incentive for those voters who have only
a weak attachment to National to switch allegiances.
The Greens are responding to Labour's non-co-operation pact
and the increasing competition on the left posed by Internet
Mana by pitching a prime environmental message to the centre.
That does not mean the Greens are shifting to the right. It
is simply that in a crowded marketplace, you have to have a
product which is unique.
The Conservative Party is also unique, but not in a fashion
National would prefer. Nevertheless, Mr Key is going to have
to hand Mr Craig an electorate as insurance against the Maori
Party not making it back to Parliament. The arrival of
Internet Mana has left him no choice. That was the real story
of the week - not Mr Banks.
- John Armstrong is The New Zealand Herald political