Exclusive: Winston weighs up which way to go

Pundit can reveal an exclusive report from inside Winston's head... We see what he's actually thinking

... And now we cross live, to the internal monologue playing out in Winston Peter's brain...

On the one hand, go with the biggest party and the two-party coalition provide strong, stable government. It's simplest to negotiate and manage because you're dealing with two agendas, not three.

On the other hand, it means aligning with a fourth term government which, Bill English aside, looked to have run out of steam and ideas in the past year or two. Odds on, we're talking a one-term gig here, so how stable is that really?

So it may be better go get in on the ground floor of a new Labour-led government with a popular new leader. Ride the wave. Odds on, after the specials we're talking about a 63 seat majority, which is good enough, and there's a shot at two or three terms in  government.

On the other hand, after four terms National got over 46 percent, which is more than it won in 2008 when John Key was fresh and exciting. As English said on election night, that's 10 percent ahead of Labour and says something about the will of the people after all these years. 46! It's unprecedented, even if it drops to around 44.5 percent after the specials. That's still a stronger 65 seat majority.

Yet New Zealand First campaigned on change and called on Bill English to resign just a few months ago, about the same time I accused National of leaking my superannuation details and said "They broke the law and they're not going to get away with it". Seats held by parties in Opposition last term, when I liked to be known as the leader of the Opposition, now out-number the remnants of that last government. So change then.

On the other hand, do I want to be the one creating a constitutional first, handing victory to the party which came second. I'm an old-fashioned constitutionalist. Sure, it's MMP and there's nothing wrong with that, but think of the backlash. Some commentators don't understand it, so how can I expect voters to? Would I be punished in 2020?

Or would I be the hero? It looks like there might be something about this Jacinda Ardern and maybe being the one who got her into power could be useful leverage both with her party and voters. If we actually built the houses, funded health and education properly, got more police on the street, changed the Reserve Bank Act, moved Auckland's port, build rail and - holy of holies - cut immigration, wouldn't people love that?

But would they love me or her? Would New Zealand First get any credit for that or would the Ardern Effect me she got the kudos and we just withered away in her shade? Look at what happens to minor parties. How do I compete with stardust?

So maybe I'd be better with National. If I could get them to cut immigration, build houses and move the port and add some rail, people would know New Zealand First was responsible for that, not them. A tired, old government would be rejuvenated by my ideas and I'd still be able to pull away from them later on.

On the other hand, National and New Zealand First are competing for the same rural and regional vote. I was starting to get in there, before National used taxes and water policy to drive fear into rural communities and regional voters back to them. If we're in government together, it would be a a farmer fantasy and a super gold time to be old... but they'd probably all reward National. The smaller parties never get the credit.

So maybe I'd be better with Labour. I could be the farmer's hero that helped fund health and education, brough rail and police back to the regions, but also stopped the water tax. Sure, tax the bottlers, but I can save the farmers from the worst excesses of those lefties. That would have sounded better if Labour had got a few percent more, but I might still be able to swing it.

On the other hand, would the farmers ever forgive me for giving power to the wicked witch of Mt Albert? That's the way some of the farming press portrayed her, so I should listen to that. Much of my base is out in those regions and they don't want to be hectored by some young slip of a girl DJ from the city.

On the other hand, Northland. Winning that seat was one of my great achievements, and they took it back off me. I've opened the offices and built a base up there; as I've said this is my turangawaewae. I want it back, New Zealand First needs a seat and I'm not going win it back by going into coalition with they very people who now have it. I need to show what I can win for the region that National wouldn't do. I should go with Labour on the condition they give me the port, the rail and the credit.

But hang on, the Greens. How can I build up a rural base going into a coalition with the very party my voters hate the most. Even more than David Seymour, some of them. They think Greens are socialist, farmer-hating, wowsers. I've said as much and Shane Jones called them "mollyhawks". Can I force them into a confidence and supply position with no place in cabinet with 1.66 percent more than them (probably less after specials)? Sure I can, Labour will do what I want. But will my core supporters understand? Do I want a third wheel?

Maybe I'm better to get National to roll over and go just with them. In 1996 Jim Bolger went where Helen Clark wouldn't and let me be Treasurer. National is ruthless when it comes to getting what it wants, and English wants a term on his terms. He won't be rolled by some woman who doesn't want to run the country over a whiskey bottle.

On the other hand, he's motivated by the desire for a fifth term. Did you hear him on election night, talking about protecting the environment and the most vulnerable, like some sort of Labour Party? Won't some of the conservative wins I'll need be exactly the policies he will want to shun to stay competitive with Ardern? Will he be a proper social conservative like me or will be be trying to re-invent his party?

So maybe I'm better with Labour. I can probably get more out of them, now and over three years. They're inexperienced, naive, still not entirely organised. I'd back myself to out-manoeuvre them, whereas English and Joyce are nothing if not experienced. And overall my policies are much more aligned with Labour's.

Then again, she's got this vision of a new generation that really isn't my sort of thing. Did I mention she's a DJ? She reckons climate change is her generations nuclear-free moment. She'll want to act on that. Do I want to be part of that or keep dropping sceptical hints? Do I want to be part of a government leading on abortion and such stuff.

Remember where I came from? I'm National at heart. I'm about recreating 1960s New Zealand. I like Gerry and his sort, blokes together.

On the other hand, New Zealand First is an essentially interventionist party, and so more like Labour. Jones comes from there and Tracey Martin much prefers them. That top bloke David Parker who wants to change the Reserve Bank Act like me (I've been waiting to do that for so, so long) and understands trade like me is there. My good mate Kelvin Davis is there and he's happy for me to be Deputy Prime Minister. I'm liking that Labour lot.

On the other hand, it'd be sweet to take the Deputy Prime Ministership off that Paula Bennett. And send Joyce packing. He tried to crush me in Northland and he did crush my vote in the regions this time. That could be a condition of my support.

But English. Back in 1992 he ignored our coalition agreement when he was Minister of Health and just kept reforming, he drove Neil Kirton out and I damned him as a boy out of Treasury. Do leopards change their spots? He, Joyce and Key stiffed me in 2008 and 2011 and almost killed New Zealand First. And now he wants my seats? 

On the other hand, that's personal. I've got to think about what's best for the country. And for the policies I want. And for the next election. And my legacy. And the longevity of New Zealand First. And what my board and members want. And what sort of mandate does this vote actually gives me. Is it a vote for the status quo or for change?

I guess that's what I've got to decide. Why the hell did I want this again? Whichever way I go, I'm going to burn off quite a bit of support and we'll be struggling to hold onto seven percent in 2020.

What on earth do I do?