Dunne for PM

Peter Dunne's cosying up with National is less ideological and more a practical reality of minor party survival, plus more poll analysis

I’ve always suspected Peter Dunne wants to be Prime Minister. It sort of befits someone who was reading Hansard when others were smoking behind the school bike-sheds. The dim prospect of that dream eventuating became apparent early on in his career, when Labour stopped promoting and started shedding its right-wingers. He didn’t need to read Hansard to realise he was never going to lead the Labour Party, let alone the country.

Ambition thwarted, Dunne still wanted to lead. He has since been leader of an array of groupings. He has joined coalitions led by National and Labour. He has enjoyed the ministerial trappings. And he is now one of Parliament’s more venerable members.

Outside his firmly middle-class electorate, he has never been especially popular. There is often a pomposity about his public demeanour – notably his impressive contretemps with TVNZ’s Mark Sainsbury on election night in 2005. In person, however, he is friendly and approachable.

There are three things which are certain about Peter Dunne. First, about two weeks out from polling day, he will craft a photo opportunity with the National Party leader of the day. Then, he will pledge his preference for National’s policies of tax cuts and ‘sensible’ policies for the family. And, third, he will claim that Labour’s closeness to the Greens rules out any possible post-election arrangement with the left.

To be fair to Dunne, he has little choice. For the past few elections, he has held Ohariu-Belmont because its National voters give him their electorate vote. To earn that, he needs to, at the very least, genuflect to the current National icon, and that’s best done just a few days prior to polling day. (And having behaved himself during the last three years as a minister in a Labour-led government, he will have sewn up some Labour votes too.)

The nature of electorate boundary changes mean his Ohariu-Belmont electorate tends to grow slightly more National-centric each election, as it sheds comparatively less well-off suburbs in the north and picks up more affluent areas to the south. As a former Labour MP, he has his own personal links to those on the left. He hired Rob Eaddy, Jim Bolger’s former advisor, to be his chief of staff and nurture relationships on the right.

This election, Dunne is unlikely to bring in any other MPs (we will all miss Judy Turner and Gordon Copeland). His poll ratings now compete with Jim Anderton’s Progressives. That, more than any public dalliance with National and protestations of ideological incompatibility with the centre-left, will count against him being involved in any Labour-led arrangement.

Speaking of polling, the dichotomy between the two polarised camps of published polls is striking. Calling it for the centre-right are TVNZ, Fairfax and Herald polls. Firmly in the red corner are TV3 and Roy Morgan.

It’s interesting to average the last six of the blue-trending polls. This predicts a centre-right landslide with National over 50 percent and Labour marooned on 34.5%. The Greens are on 6.7%, NZ First and the Maori Party on 2.5%, Act on 1.7% and United on 0.7%.

Doing the same for the red-trending polls see National fall to 44.3% and Labour rise to 36.7%. The Greens are on 8.4%, NZ First on 3.7%, and Act on 2.3%. The Maori Party is 2.4% and United 0.6%.

Which group is correct? Remember, TV3 and Roy Morgan called it right at the 2005 election, while TVNZ, Fairfax and the Herald were all miles out.

Of concern to the centre right is that, either way, we are likely to see four parties of consequence post election – Labour and National, the Greens and the Maori Party courtesy of its dominance of the Maori seats. The rest will be stragglers and independents.

A sign of National starting to worry will be scaremongering about the nature of a possible Labour-led coalition. Oh, that’s right, they started that last week.