Plenty of ironies in latest polls

The latest polls show that Colin Craig, Winston Peters and perhaps even the Maori Party have something in common... the need for Labour to do better

To rip off Jono and Ben, it sux to be David Cunliffe right now. He's got everything he fought so hard for in the leadership of the Labour Party, but has wasted the first phase of his time in charge. Still, he's not the only party leader on the 'sux to be' list right now. As we get closer to election day a whole lot of electoral ironies are appearing.

National was vulnerable late last year after the blows of the GCSB fuss and John Banks' donation claims and with Labour's primary making them look energised, but it has turned around its performance and popularity. That has obviously been bad news for Labour and the Greens, but it's also worrying for New Zealand First and even the Conservatives.

In the high 40s, National can govern with its one-seat partners ACT and United Future (and possibly the Maori Party). Though everyone on #teamkey will be pushing the line that Labour will rebound and nothing can be taken for granted (because it can't), John Key is hoping he might just – just! – be able to govern alone (or all-but alone) for the next three years. On The Nation we saw a glimpse, when he said he "really personally desperately hope that’s what election night looks like", but that's only really appealing for National and United Future. And perhaps ACT, which wants National party supporters on the right of the spectrum to feel so confident in a win they can pass their party vote over to the boys in yellow.

Winston Peters perhaps more than anyone wants – needs – David Cunliffe to lift his game. As National has looked more dominant, New Zealand First was look less necessary to many voters. If National v Labour and the Greens is neck and neck, then voters seem to turn to Peters as the man to "keep the buggers honest". But if National doesn't need New Zealand First, Peters loses his edge. The irony is that Labour could improve, boost New Zealand First and then see it hand National a third term anyway. Or, that voters could turn to New Zealand First as an honest-broker or more sensible support partner for National, only to have it back Labour. C'est la vie MMP.

Oddly enough, Colin Craig is in the same boat as Winston Peters on this one. He too needs Labour to do better – but not too well. National has made it clear, he's the very last cab off the rank. John Key couldn't come up with one nice thing to say about Craig's performance this year on The Nation and clearly is unimpressed with what he sees. National would rather go without the Conservatives. In fact, it's really, really not keen. John Key likes things just the way they are, thank you very much. So long as National stays above something like 47 percent and the Conservatives below around 3.5 percent (at which point National can afford the wasted vote), National will back itself to make it alone or with its current amenable partners... And back itself not to have to sacrifice policies to accommodate some of Craig's worrying list of "bottom lines", that have included the likes of smacking law and binding referenda.

And then of course there's the Maori Party irony. It is weirdly in that same boat with Peters and Craig. At least, it has one leg in it. On one level the party vote results mean nothing to voting in the Maori seats. Yet the Maori Party is tied to dealing with whoever wins. If National looks unassailable, Mana-Internet can say that a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for National and the only hope for change is Mana. And the waker National is, the more it needs the Maori Party alongside ACT and United Future. On the other hand, it could help save Te Tai Hauāuru if Labour looks weak.

But here's the thing... judging by previous campaigns the polls will move. If Labour does something disastrous, it could yet end up like National in 2002 and there's a tiny chance National could govern with just the one-seaters. But more probably, given that this is a government seeking a third term, the race will tighten. And if Internet-Mana looks to be getting 2-3 percent (as per the One News Colmar Brunton poll), all the more reason to make sure no vote on the right is wasted.

So despite the bluster, denials and equivocations by John Key and the dishonesty of his claims that nothing has been decided yet, here's the most likely scenario between here and election day:

  • John Key will sacrifice Murray McCully in East Coast Bays and try to give Colin Craig the seat (it'll be interesting to see how the Bays community responds).
  • National will promise tax cuts in its third term, aimed at the middle class.

That's the truth of it. The risk of trying to go it alone is just so high. Would Key, Joyce and Co really take an all-or-nothing risk, ignoring Craig in the hope its vote holds. Very risky.

And one other irony. If Internet-Mana's strength on the left does damage or even eliminate the Maori Party and force National to make room for the Conservatives, it could open the door to a more right-wing and dogmatic third-term National government.

Yep, those ironies abound.