With the specials about to be announced, what are the ramifications for the new government? And what's likely to happen next?
Won't tomorrow be fun? It's like election day all over again. Except National may not enjoy this one as much as two weeks ago.
Yes, the specials are confirmed tomorrow and the final shape of parliament will be known. Plus, the small matter of our electoral system will be decided.
The assumed wisdom has been the retention of MMP, the loss of one National seat to the Greens, and little change in the electorates. That's probably not far wrong, but the electorates could be more interesting that anticipated.
The New Zealand Herald beat me to the punch this morning with its report that Paula Bennett may be about to lose Waitakere. It makes no difference to the ultimate make up of parliament because it's the electorate vote, not the party vote that's being altered. But it would be a slap for Bennett and National.
And the Herald's inside word on the count is in line with Labour's hopes. I wondered whether they may be just that - hopes. There were only just over 3400 specials in Waitakere, so not a lot of room for Carmel Sepuloni to make up the ground. Bennett was 349 votes ahead.
But I understand that if the swing on the night was matched in the specials, that margin would be cut to around 70. So Labour was wondering what sort of folk were out of the seat on the day and who had signed up late. It was the latter where they were pinning their hopes. Labour organisers out west had encouraged quite a few folk onto the roll in the final week or two before the election and were hoping that would pay off.
Then, of course, there was the 2-for-1 argument that Sepuloni could use, given that Bennett would remain in parliament via National's list.
It's interesting, Bennett has a high profile round the country and many assume that's all good. But in fact what little polling I've seen suggests she's quite a divisive figure. With middle-class women especially, the fact she cut the Training Incentive Allowance, the very fund she used to get ahead as a solo mum, goes down very badly indeed.
But what about the 6,600 specials in Auckland Central? That's a lot of room for change, but the assumption is that Nikki Kaye has done enough. That's unlikely to change.
And the smart money's on Brendon Burns hanging onto Christchurch Central. While having your majority slashed is hardly a ringing endorsement, most of those not in the electorate are likely to be those with less money or who are less impressed with the handling of the rebuild, ie Labour voters.
That would mean Rajen Prasad and Raymond Huo losing out. Come the first by-election do they get hammered like Judith Tizard did, with the 'vote for X, get Tizard' line David Farrar and National ran in Mt Albert? So do they hang around or step aside, like Martin Gallagher and others did, to allow the popular Kelvin David back in? And would Davis even want it? I understand he's moving on with his life. The next on the list would be Rick Barker, and that really would be another Tizard-type opportunity for National.
(But then Paul Quinn is currently in the Tizard/Prasad slot for National, with Aaron Gilmore set to replace him should National's party vote slip thanks to the specials. So the argument can go both ways, if it comes to that!)
And what way were Prasad and Huo going to vote in the Labour leadership? Do the new MPs have different views?
The only other one I'll be watching is Waimakariri - with fewer than 2500 specials, it's unlikely Clayton Cosgrove can overcome his 395 vote deficit, but it'll be interesting to see how close it ends up.
The party vote, as always, has greater implications. At the moment National has 60 seats in a 121 seat parliament. With either United Future or ACT or the Maori Party it has a majority. If it falls to 59, then it needs both United Future and ACT, or the Maori Party, to get its majority.
Not hugely significant, you may say (apart from bringing into parliament the Green's Mojo Mathers, who would be the first deaf MP. But it does give that bit more power to ACT and United Future. Especially in those moments when Peter Dunne remembers his Labour roots, or feels pressure from the Christian remnants or hunin'fishin' crows in his party, it could get interesting.
Anything foreshore & seabed-ish would see each of those minor parties pulling in different directions. And in an example I've mentioned before, a drop to 59 for National tomorrow should see the end of its plan to have repeat parents on the DPB go back to work when their youngest child turns one.
Both the Maori Party and United Future have said they'll vote against that part of the reform and National and ACT alone won't get it passed. The only remaining question is whether New Zealand First might vote for it. I imagine over the course opf this term other legislation will appear that will cause similar consternations. Maybe the Maori Party and United Future will push National on its prison policies -- more rehab, more money for education programmes, for example.
As for the Maori Party, well they've been canny holding hui until after the specials are counted. If National loses that seat, the Maori Party's utility grows. How much easier for National to only have to get them on side than two parties? We'll see, but that should strengthen its negotiating hand a smidge.
There are other possible outcomes of course, but I won't go on. If you want to speculate on those -- or discuss the results when they come out on Saturday, dive into the comments.
The point of all this, however, is that 59 spreads the power a littler thinner and makes governing distinctly more wrinkly than 60, which, I suspect, is what voters en masse wanted.