OPINION: In hospitals, doctors use the slang code "cold tea syndrome" to indicate a patient has died. It alludes to undrunk, cold brews lined up on the bedside table.
Prime Minister John Key used his own code yesterday to kill off the Conservatives' chances of getting into Parliament. There will be no cup-of-tea deal for Colin Craig in East Coast Bays. National will not be pulling Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully out of the race to give Craig a clear run.
With opinion polls placing National well clear of 50 per cent, Key has judged he doesn't need to risk having Craig. The chances of the Conservatives leader now reaching the 5 per cent threshold required to get into Parliament are weak.
Key has confidently gambled that voters are not as turned off by political deals as his opponents claim. By continuing electoral accommodations in Ohariu and Epsom, Key breathed life back into the moribund ACT and UnitedFuture parties. Barely registering 1 per cent support, David Seymour and Peter Dunne will be grateful enough not to cause him any trouble should he win a third term.
Unexpectedly, Key also threw a liferaft to the Maori Party by explicitly stating National voters should give their electorate votes to the minor party's candidates.
Without Crazy Colin's mutterings about chem trails and Moon landings, Key can credibly contrast a "sensible" National-led coalition government with the disparate band vying to cobble together a ruling Left bloc.
The teapot is being kept warm for NZ First. Winston Peters threatened to stand in East Coast Bays. Whether he was bluffing or not, it forced Key to choose between NZ First and the Conservatives. It will shore up Peters' support base, ensuring those who may have been lured away by Craig's fresh face and socially conservative message will stay loyal.
Before Key's unequivocal signals, the general election was shaping up to be a circus. Now the Conservatives, ACT and - to a certain extent - NZ First know their place.
Of course, Peters will hedge his bets and not declare his preference before the election. But reading the tea leaves - and current polling - it seems unlikely now he will throw in his lot with Labour.
- The Dominion Post