David Parker has ruled out forming a grand coalition with National to lock Winston Peters out of power, saying he'd be "happy" to have the political veteran back for another three years.
Peters' party NZ First held the balance of power after the 2017 election and sided with Labour, making Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister and Peters her deputy.
But over the last three years NZ First has acted as a "handbrake" on what Peters last weekend called "woke pixie dust" from Labour and support partner the Greens. Many Labour and Greens supporters have expressed frustration with the arrangement, hoping Peters and NZ First are wiped out of Parliament at the election in September.
But Parker isn't one of them.
"I'm happy to work with Winston," he told The AM Show on Friday.
Former National Party leader Simon Bridges, appearing with Parker on The AM Show, said it appeared Labour has been "edging away" from NZ First recently.
"I see everyone edging away from each other as we come to the end of the parliamentary term because everyone's trying to carve out their own territory," said Parker.
"We've worked well with Winston Peters, we've worked well with the Greens. We're not going to work with National."
On current polling, Labour could govern alone - though few expect those numbers to hold through the election campaign. National's support has dropped so far this year that without a miracle, they'll likely need support from ACT - which is polling better than it has in a decade - and perhaps even NZ First if they're to form a Government.
But Bridges doesn't want anything to do with Peters.
"I'm happy to rule these guys out - I don't need Judith's permission for that. I would just say this about Winston - what he did this week in Parliament was scurrilous, right? He went into Parliament under the legal protection to say whatever you like, he spouted a load of nonsense - including against my former press secretary. Absolutely scurrilous. It's time for the guy to go."
Peters, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, accused former National Party staffer Rachel Morton of leaking his superannuation details in 2017. She categorically denied the claims, which Peters hasn't repeated outside of Parliament.
NZ First is polling badly, but often does between elections before scraping in on election day.
Bridges suggested Peters was the "real boss" in Cabinet, which Parker denied.
"Absolutely, clearly Jacinda, and I think the country sees that... Who's carried us through COVID, the most important issue that we've faced as a country for years and years?"