Political minnows scrap for survival

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 07:25 14/11/2013

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OPINION: They say politics follows the laws of nature, where the fittest survive and the biggest sharks feed on the small and the weak.

But the minor parties are not necessarily fish-feed.

Think of those cleaner fish, which if they choose the right host can swim with impunity around the teeth of large predators performing their crucial function.

Some develop bright colours, often a bold blue stripe - think ACT, UnitedFuture and the Conservatives - to send a clear message of their usefulness to the bigger fish in their neck of the ocean.

Strangely enough, by a process called "convergent evolution" they can even come to resemble each other.

Just where NZ First fits is difficult to say, although according to one dictionary there is a particularly aggressive mimic, the sabre-toothed blenny, that looks for all the world like a cleaner fish "but in fact feeds on healthy scales and mucus".

With the election about a year away, the minnows are starting to perform their survival dance with the big parties that may well rely on them to win power.

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne made his pitch to National at his party's annual conference last weekend with a logic that frankly made the brain ache.

Essentially it called on National to ignore new flakes on the block like Colin Craig's Conservatives and instead reward his sensible centrism with a deal letting him hold his Ohariu seat. Fair enough.

But his attack on the Greens seemed to be an appeal to National voters, who fear the influence of the Greens, to back him to stop Labour relying on the Greens. So he would be an alternative to the Greens for Labour and that is a reason for National to help him? Sorry?

In truth it makes sense for National to strike a deal to ensure all three of its potential Right-wing allies win a seat.

If ACT and UnitedFuture attract fewer votes than required to qualify for a seat under MMP, they will come in as an "overhang seat" which lifts the size of Parliament beyond 120 seats and makes it that much easier for National to form a majority.

If they surprise and qualify for more than one seat - by getting solidly more than 1 per cent of the vote - then a deal makes even more sense. They would then bring in extra MPs under the coat- tail provisions of MMP and avoid "wasted vote" on the Right side of the spectrum.

With the Conservatives polling more than 2.5 per cent, the logic is even more compelling. With an electorate seat they could bring in four or more MPs. Without an electorate seat, their votes from the conservative side of the fence go down the toilet.

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It seems pointless to continue to call it speculation.

A newly created Upper Harbour seat in Auckland will be gifted to the Conservatives by National.

On Labour's side, and with Mana and the Maori Party, the picture is much more blurred.

As a generalisation, Labour voters are less amenable to deals than National's supporters, who have shown how malleable they are in successive elections in Epsom.

The Greens aside - they no longer rank as a minor party - Labour is clearly confident of the backing of Hone Harawira. Whether that translates into a non-aggression pact or a deal with him in his Te Tai Tokerau is a separate question. Labour's current stance is that it wants to win all seven of the Maori electorates. But if Mana's support firms above 1 per cent that would be counterproductive in the same way as National with its sucker fish.

There is a strong seam of thinking in Labour that the Maori Party is dead - and if it isn't they should kill it.

A deal with Mana to that end might be possible, but Labour has to be careful.

Its best chances of winning six or seven Maori seats is if the Maori Party stays viable and stays in the race to split the non-Labour vote - as it did in the Ikaroa- Rawhiti seat left vacant by Parekura Horomia's death.

The worst possibility for Labour would be a deal between Mana and the Maori Party to divide up the seats - something Mr Harawira seems keen to advance as a way of putting together a bloc of six seats that could wield huge influence over a Labour-led Government.

But his price is for the Maori Party to turn its back on National and on its long-held view that it can be a player in Government, whoever is in office.

That, for now, seems to be a bridge too far for Maori Party co- leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

- Stuff

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