OPINION: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. After consistently ruling Winston Peters out of his Government, Prime Minister John Key yesterday bowed to the inevitable and opened the door to doing a deal with him after this year's election.
The gesture says far more about National than it does about the NZ First leader being a changed man. Key didn't need Peters to form a government in 2008 or again in 2011, when he ruled him out.
But the parlous state of old allies ACT, the Maori Party and UnitedFuture has focused Key's mind on the possibility that this year could be his last in power.
Ruling out Peters in 2008 worked in National's favour because it made Labour look grubby in comparison, given the donations scandal swirling around NZ First.
But repeating the tactic backfired for Key in 2011 when the so-called teapot tapes controversy derailed his campaign and gave Peters a leg up back into Parliament.
Ruling Peters out a third time would be akin to playing political Russian roulette.
But opening the door to Peters is not just about giving National options in government should it win the next election - with allies to its Left and Right - though that was an important factor in its thinking.
It will also take some of the wind out of the sails of Conservative Party leader Colin Craig who had increasingly been getting traction - and air time - as National's only potential saviour.
That would likely put the frighteners on many of National's urban liberal and female supporters - the last thing it wants.
Key was at pains yesterday to stress that Peters was very much last cab off his rank. But he would say that.
The reality is that if National can't govern without NZ First then Peters won't so much be first cab off the rank as first stretch limo off the rank.