Simon Bridges says Labour will try to "look centrist" to keep voters they've been "lent" by National, but end up giving National a way back to power by doing "extreme Greens stuff".
Labour made history at the weekend, winning an outright majority in Parliament - the first time any party's managed to in the MMP era.
But the votes didn't come from their friends the Greens, who also increased their share of the party vote - ironically bringing in more MPs, but in a weakened position when it comes to coalition bargaining since Labour doesn't need them.
"Whatever the shape of our relationship is with them, it will be cooperative - as it was last term," said Labour MP David Parker, appearing on The AM Show with Bridges.
"We could ignore them, but you know, I'm sure we'll work out a cooperative relationship. It will reflect the fact that we won the election, that we want to govern - as the Prime Minister said - in the interests of all New Zealanders."
National supporters backing Labour?
There has been speculation Labour's strong showing in the polls was buoyed by people who would normally vote National, but gave Labour their party vote so they'd get a majority and not have to make compromises with the Greens, whose policies in areas such as welfare, tax and the economy are further to the left.
Bridges backs the theory.
"They've been lent votes by traditional National voters," he insisted, predicting they'll leave the Greens out in the cold not to lose those votes in 2023.
"I think they'll try and look centrist, but I think David's animal instincts will mean ultimately they'll do a few wacky things along the way - and that's National's opportunity."
Whether a significant number of National supporters ticked Labour to reduce the Greens' power won't be known until the NZ Election Study - a joint effort between three universities and the Electoral Commission - is complete. University of Auckland political scientist Dr Lara Greaves, one of the brains behind the study this year, told Stuff it's unlikely though.
"Most people probably voted for Labour because they wanted to vote for Labour."
'No one to blame but themselves'
Bridges predicts Labour won't find governing alone any easier than in coalition.
"When things turn to custard - and they always do in Government - they'll have no one to blame but themselves."
Things turned to custard frequently during Bridges' reign as Leader of the Opposition. His first year was tarnished by leaks, constant rumblings of a leadership coup and the Jami-Lee Ross saga. He'd just got his poll numbers back up earlier this year when COVID hit, and was rolled before having a chance to lead his party into an election campaign. That job fell to Judith Collins.
Collins promised to get the party back on track, but failed - getting just 26.8 percent of the vote (not including specials). National's lowest poll result under Bridges was 29 percent - and that saw him rolled. Collins has said she has no plans to step down, despite her leadership seeing the party drop at least 21 seats.
"The reality is we had a really tough night, but we had a constructive caucus meeting this week and New Zealand needs an effective Opposition," said Bridges. "We've got to regroup and rebuild, and be strong."
He shut down questions around whether he could have done better than Collins.
"I'm not going to get into that. No, no no. I'm not going to get into that sort of stuff."
Parker was happy to though.
"I've got an answer to that. The answer is yes."