Deal making is part of the territory with MMP

Peter Dunne believes the numbers are still on his side.

Peter Dunne believes the numbers are still on his side.

OPINION:  MMP is the art of the deal. So why the outrage over the latest electorate deal aimed at kneecapping Peter Dunne?

There's been plenty of hyperbole about the Green Party standing aside in Dunne's Ohariu seat being the "dirtiest deal ever".

But it's no more odious than any number of deals done under MMP.

John Key scrapped the silly games used to deliver the message on who to vote for after his infamous cup of tea with John ...

John Key scrapped the silly games used to deliver the message on who to vote for after his infamous cup of tea with John Banks.

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In the early days, National was the crash test dummy of MMP, working all the angles but with no idea of the potential impact.

It didn't stand a candidate in Ohariu in 1996 and 1999, even though Peter Dunne's majority was so huge it may not have mattered if it did.

The local electorate organisation disintegrated and National belatedly realised it still needed them to turn out the all important party vote.

So it went back to standing candidates but with the edict that the words "vote for me" must never cross their lips.

National went through similar contortions in Wellington Central.

In 1996 its local candidate, Mark Thomas, was famously chopped down by former prime minister Jim Bolger in order to get ACT leader Richard Prebble across the line.

National got so much blow-back it didn't stand a candidate there at all in 1999 but Prebble lost the seat anyway.

The tables were turned when the Alliance candidate, Phillida Bunkle, pulled out at the last minute to help Labour and it worked.

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That same year Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons turfed the local National MP out of the seat after Labour leader Helen Clark gave her supporters the wink.

So on the "dirtiest deals" scale, the Greens-Labour deal in Ohariu is probably about par. And on a scale of public outrage, it barely rates.

In Dunne's case, voters might even see it as just deserts for a rule that attracts much more odium, the coat tail rule.

Under that rule, Dunne could bring more MPs into Parliament on his coat tail if he lifts his party vote, even if United Future fails to cross the 5 per cent threshold.

National has relied on Dunne's vote since 2008, which is why it continues to back him in Ohariu.

But there are no guarantees. In 2002, United Future experienced a surge of support and Dunne did a deal with Labour.

The Labour-Greens deal in Ohariu (though they refuse to call it a deal) is a reverse exploitation of the coat tail rule. Epsom, on the other hand, is the real deal.

The heat has largely gone out of the issue for now for three reasons.

ACT and United Future, the chief beneficiaries of the coat tail rule, have polled so poorly they've barely managed to muster a caucus of one.

National has also boxed clever by standing candidates, even if they have one arm tied behind their backs. Voters at least still have the choice.

given its voters a choice.

Finally, John Key's decision to be upfront with Epsom about how they should vote has cleared away a lot of the murk.

Key did so after finally washing his hands of the increasingly silly games used to deliver the message on who to vote for, culminating in the cuppa tea fiasco.

But, like waka jumping, public distaste for coat tailing never lies far beneath the surface.

All it might take is a polarising figure and it will rear its head again.

Someone like Hone Harawira, for instance, if he gets a leg up in Te Tai Tokerau from the Maori Party, as tipped to happen on Monday.

There are still a lot of unknowns about the cooperation deal between the Maori party and Mana but like Ohariu both have the potential to wield a disproportionate influence on the next election.

If Peter Dunne is finally ousted - and he believes the numbers are still on his side - National will lose the coalition ally it least wants to lose.

He has been a fly in the ointment on occasion but is still low maintenance compared to the alternatives.

The blow could be even more marked if Harawira is back in cahoots with National's other long time support party, the Maori Party.

Harawira's politics do not sit comfortably alongside National.

Dunne's ousting would also signal the death of attempts to forge a genuine centrist party - one that could work alongside governments from either the left or right of the political spectrum
under MMP.

The encroachment of both major parties toward the centre has starved minor parties like Dunne's of any oxygen in that middle ground.

Winston Peters has done the best job of holding his ground - but that's largely through the force of his own personality and a grab bag of populist issues.

But the drift toward the centre is also a product of MMP - it was the public's way of applying a handbrake to a succession of runaway executives

They just underestimated the ability of politicians to spot the deals.

 - Stuff


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