OPINION: In politics, there's never much new under the sun.
However, in the lead-up to this election, something is remarkably different. John Key's new-found warmth towards Winston Peters.
There was no such embrace in February 2011. On the day Key set the date for that year's election, he emphatically ruled out working with NZ First. He went as far as to say that he would rather hand power to Labour than give his party's soul to Peters.
"He's got a very different style and it's rearward looking. I'm about tomorrow - not about yesterday," he told reporters.
Well, tomorrow has come around. Peters is the same politician he was in 2011. Nor has he changed from 2008, when Key ruled out NZ First, driving down their vote and banishing them from Parliament.
But this week Key has not much extended the olive branch as planted the whole tree in Peters' backyard. Responding to a mid-week poll result that handed NZ First the balance of power, Key was confident Peters would offer some sort of support to a National, as the largest polling party.
His reasoning? Peters would not force a second election because voters would punish NZ First.
Which is intriguing because six days out from the last election, Key was pushing the opposite message. In a pitch to get National supporters out, he warned that anointing Peters kingmaker would see the country go back to the polls within weeks. "How can New Zealand govern itself over the next three years," he asked, "when at any stage the whole government can be brought down by Winston Peters?"
Peters has not changed his position in the intervening three years. Key's November 2011 remarks were prompted by a television interview in which Peters said he would give neither National or Labour confidence and supply. His preference was to sit on the cross benches and vote issue by issue - the same stance stance he maintained this week in a radio interview.
Peters' popularity has received a boost because of the renewed debate on foreign ownership of land and property. Dissatisfaction over immigration and soaring house prices will deliver him enough votes to clear the 5 per cent threshold. Yet, Key has condemned Labour for adopting the same scare-mongering stance on the Lochinver sale and overseas ownership of productive farmland.
The pre-election debate might have been consumed by claims about dirty "smear campaign" tactics. But this type of politics is just as tawdry. Key's camp - and no doubt Peters as it works in his favour - would shrug it off as pragmatism. Neither man is likely to let Peters' role in Judith Collins resignation get in the way of any deal. But there is nothing grubbier than a flip-flop on a principled stance taken six years ago and reconfirmed again three years later. All in the name of holding onto power.
Neither National or NZ First are likely to lose support with this cynical strategy. It will bolster Peters' faithful, who can be assured they aren't wasting their vote. And it is likely to galvanise National supporters, fearful of a hung Parliament.
The only great loss will be integrity in politics - but there was never much of that to go around in the first place.
- Sunday Star Times
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