Mark Sainsbury: Bad blood makes National-NZ First deal unlikely

OPINION: We were right.

Before the Greens' implosion, before the leadership changes, before the billion-dollar promises and the billion-dollar porkies, before all of that - we all agreed it would probably be Winston Peters that determines the outcome of the election, and so it came to pass.

But not without some casualties. National achieved a stunning result for a fourth-term hopeful by picking up 46 percent of the vote - Bill English did better leading a fourth-term trier than John Key did when he first won in 2008 - but they lost two seats.

The Greens are lucky to be alive, but they are there with their caucus halved, from 14 down to seven.

The Māori Party is goneburger, two seats to none.

And although it's now 'all hail the mighty Winston', don't forget: he lost Northland and his party is two seats down on last election's result.

And then there's Labour - up from 25 to 36 percent of the vote they will bring in another 13 MPs, but it's still not enough.

Where was the 'youthquake'? Where was the rejection of National? If the Māori Party had have got back into Parliament, we would not even be having this conversation. National, with ACT's one MP and the Māori Party's two seats, would be sorting out their new line-up this morning.

So here's the question: given National's by far the biggest party, given an absence of some huge move for change, should Winston be obliged to go with them? Is the cleanest, most stable likely Government a National-NZ First coalition?

Or do you buy into this argument that Labour with the Greens and with NZ First equals a vote for change?

What it comes down to is whether a vote for NZ First was a vote for change. What if you were a National voter, but voted Winston as a safety valve in case Labour got in and you wanted a handbrake on them?

And how the language has changed. How deferential they have all become, James Shaw calling out to the "Rt Honourable Winston Peters". They will all be minding their Ps and Qs, or Ps and Ws. Watch for that deference to collapse when your side is rejected by the said Rt Honourable.

But this is what the system has served us up, and as long as the Greens continue to hobble themselves by refusing to even consider dealing with National, they will border on the irrelevant. The options remain firmly in Winston Peters' court.

And then remember the bottom lines, which in case you lost track can be found here.

Plus there's another factor - the leaking of his superannuation overpayment. The bureaucrats have been cleared, which means the finger of blame is firmly directed at the National ministers in the loop, and Winston will want vengeance, make no mistake.

Plus, there's bad blood between him and some of Bill English's top team. Remember this: Bill was there in 1992 when Peters was expelled from the National caucus, the move that lead to NZ First and this whole business.

Not only was Bill there, he seconded Jim Bolger's motion to kick him out.

Jim Bolger and Winston Peters with Governor-General Sir Michael Hardie Boys in 1996.
Jim Bolger and Winston Peters with Governor-General Sir Michael Hardie Boys in 1996. Photo credit: Reuters

But is that ancient history? Yeah, right. Both of them would have had that throbbing in their memory banks, knowing it would be back to haunt them.

But then again, he made up with Bolger - could he do it with English? There is a river of bad blood lying there, so I don't agree with all those who rule out a coalition with the left. I think it's not only possible, but potentially more palatable for Winston - it could be a train wreck, but so could a National deal.

And the third option of course - NZ First sits outside the Government on the crossbenches and supports only legislation it likes. That's called another election waiting in the wings, and no one wants that.

So what do you want? What do you think should happen? Remember, this is going to go on for weeks.

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.