Winston Peters' worst nightmare
John Key's announcement that he 'would not rule out' negotiating with NZ First to support a government after the next election could turn out to be the kiss of death for NZ First.
One of the dangers for Mr Key (or similarly Mr Cunliffe) in making such pre-electoral statements is that they could give voters for minor parties some comfort that a vote for them is less likely to be wasted as they have a chance of gaining office in support of National (or, as the case may be, Labour). But the opposite can happen too. Instead of making NZ First more popular, Mr Key's hint could cause voters to turn away from them, both to the left and to the right.
Those who were considering a vote for NZ First in the hope of kicking National out of office will have to think again, as NZ First's post-election moves are now unpredictable. Such anti-National voters may thus turn to Labour, once they realise that Peters will go with Key if it works for them both.
The more conservative side of the NZ First constituency, on the other hand, may now see the Conservative Party as a safer bet. If Key gifts Colin Craig a blue-ribbon electorate, as many predict, the Conservatives have a much surer route into Parliament than NZ First.
So, Winston's nightmare now is that he bleeds votes to the left and to the right of his party, and falls short of the 5% threshold. Meanwhile, the Conservatives get seats, even if they get less than 5% of party votes.
Winston is reacting irrationally now that he is under pressure from the media to state his post-election collaboration preferences as openly as National and Labour have done. He argues that it's somehow wrong and manipulative to be up-front with voters before the election. That's obviously because he wants to keep his options open and does not want to scare voters off in either direction.
By contrast, before the last election, Peters was very clear about his intentions: he declared that he would not support any government and was aiming to be in opposition 'to keep them honest'. And the opposition benches are exactly where he ended up.
If Winston Peters had no intention at all of supporting National after the 2014 election, he'd have said so by now. Pressure on him to state his post-electoral intentions will only mount as we get closer to the election itself. Watch him squirm!