Another day, another bombshell as 2017 election gets even more volatile video

ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Reaction in Ohariu electorate as Peter Dunne announces that he's standing down after 33 years in Parliament.

OPINION: Here we go again.

The bombshells just keep coming during this campaign - Peter Dunne's shock announcement that he's standing down after 33 years makes him the third leader to go in a month, the fourth this term.

Can things get any more volatile?

MORNING REPORT/RNZ

United Future leader Peter Dunne has suddenly announced he's quitting Parliament, just a month out from election day. He speaks with Susie Ferguson about the departure.

Dunne's decision follows polls suggesting his run is over in his Ohariu seat. Dunne has held on to the seat for years by doggedly doing the local constituency work well - school prize givings, ribbon cuttings, kindy play days. But suddenly it looks like the electorate is ready for a change.

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That will send shivers up National's spine, even though it's never even bothered to put up a fight in the seat.

Mr Common Sense Peter Dunne
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Mr Common Sense Peter Dunne

After nearly nine years of certainty it feels like New Zealand politics is in the middle of a big shake down. Is the next logical step from there a change election? National will be hoping not.

But the initial reaction to Labour's leadership change will be giving them sleepless nights that this is what a change election looks like. Dunne's resignation has the look of a rat deserting a sinking ship. The United Future leader has ruled out working with Labour and tied his colours to National's mast some time ago. The fact that the tide is going out on him in Ohariu may be only one calculation - the other is that he does not want to spend another term in Opposition.

National's only solace might be that there has been more than enough change already for voters. The only leaders left standing from 2014 are NZ First leader Winston Peters and the Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell.

Former police association boss Greg O'Connor - polls show him well ahead in Ohariu
MAARTEN HOLL/STUFF

Former police association boss Greg O'Connor - polls show him well ahead in Ohariu

That is extraordinary and must be unprecedented - in modern times anyway.

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Dunne's departure now leaves National in an even more precarious position in terms of its coalition options; the Maori Party is in trouble in the Maori seats after Labour's resurgence and ACT is struggling to lift itself above being a one seat party. That just leaves NZ First - and if Peters holds the balance of power that makes it a drag race to the finish line between Jacinda Ardern and Bill English.

So what will Peter Dunne be remembered for? He survived mostly because of his label as Mr Common Sense - the man in the middle, the centrist politician who could stand independent of both major parties.

Winston Peters continues to be in a good position to be kingmaker for the next government.

Winston Peters continues to be in a good position to be kingmaker for the next government.

But his repudiation of Labour at the last couple of elections diminished that role, and left Dunne struggling to find oxygen where he could - on medicinal cannabis, psychoactive substances, State surveillance.

But Dunne was never able to rekindle the spark that fired briefly with voters in 2002, when his Mr Common Sense moniker resonated amid the madness of Corngate.  The constant search for relevance beyond the borders of Ohariu was never successful.

Which meant that once the voters of Ohariu gave up on him there was no other route back.

* Comments on this story are now closed. 

 - Stuff

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