Patrick Gower: National faces Opposition for many years

OPINION: Time for a reality check - the National Party is in a very dark place right now, and there may be no easy way out.

It is in a much weaker position than is being made out.

Sure, National got 44.4 percent in the election, but that is worthless because it has failed to turn that moral pressure into a workable coalition - it won the battle but lost the war.

National leader Bill English is being portrayed as a wounded warrior but few questions are being asked about the tactics that saw National try but fail to take out Winston Peters and New Zealand First.

Mr Peters now has his utu - National is in Opposition, and could be there for a long time.

Put aside all the talk about National being a "strong Opposition" and the "biggest Opposition ever" - the real issue is that it failed to capitalise on its election result and is now totally boxed out electorally.

Look at it this way - National's 44.4 percent of the vote is the centre-right vote virtually maxed out.

National got there by turning out virtually every centre-right voter thanks to a scare campaign (that relied on lies) and a sublime performance on the trail by Mr English.

Even by adding in ACT (0.5 percent) and even the Conservatives (0.2 percent) the centre-right vote is at best 45.1 percent.

And that's it. The centre-right has 45.1 percent and no more - there are no future coalition options for it now New Zealand First has gone with Labour.

Now that Mr Peters has got his revenge and (belatedly) made it clear New Zealand First was a vote for change a proper analysis of vote share shows that National actually got wasted.

The "vote for change" has a total of 50.4 percent of the vote (and that is not including the wasted vote for change of up to 3.6 percent for The Opportunities Party and the Māori Party's 1.2 percent). 

Patrick Gower: National faces Opposition for many years

Transferred to seats in the House, the Labour/NZ First coalition has 55 seats, just one shy of National - and with the Greens it is actually well clear. As long as the bloc functions, its "moral authority" is unquestionable.

Looking ahead to the next three years, it is in the interests of Labour/NZ First/Greens to galvanise and keep National down and get re-elected to Government as a bloc again.

Patrick Gower: National faces Opposition for many years

The Greens can now repair its brand by focussing on climate change and conservation, blocking out any room for a rival environmental party to emerge and avoiding a "teal deal" like the plague.

New Zealand First can use its regional fund to campaign as the voice for the regions and its role as the conservative conscience of the coalition to steal votes off a powerless National.

It sets Labour up nicely as a party for centre voters with a popular leader, and two strong support parties with points of difference in the regions and on the environment.

That is why it was actually so critical for National to do this deal with NZ First because it would have stopped Jacinda Ardern from getting an opening that could last years.

Mr English and Steven Joyce's tactics to try and destroy Mr Peters and NZ First now look very stupid.

This should be National's real concern right now: it has absolutely no friends and its vote can't really climb any further unless the Government falls to pieces or the economy collapses.

That may happen, but it may not. Waiting for something to happen is hardly a positive outlook for a political movement.

The only real bright spot for National is that Mr English hasn't bailed out, preventing the scenario where Phil Goff took over from Helen Clark and was immediately on the back foot against John Key.

But that is only short-term and may just be a plaster over a deep political wound.

The reality is National has no options - and could therefore face Opposition for many years. It may have had an epic election result, but its inability to turn that into an election win is actually an epic failure.

Patrick Gower is Newshub's Political Editor.