Imagine you are David Shearer or John Key and you have just become Prime Minister after an election. NZ First held the balance of power, and you struck a confidence and supply or coalition deal with them.
You have say a two seat majority.
You first six months go pretty well. Then the Sunday Star-Times breaks the story about Brendan Horan. The allegations are he stole tens of thousands of dollars from his dying mother, to fund a gambling addiction.
This is no longer just a matter for New Zealand First. He is a Government MP. He is voting confidence and supply for your Government. If you lose his vote, your majority is halved. You can’t afford to have NZ First lose an MP so you decide to back Horan’s right to stay as an MP. You say he has not been charged with anything.
For the next six months the Opposition dominate question time with questions of fraud, gambling, vulnerable elderly and the like. You drop 5% in the polls and finally charges are laid, he is expelled and he becomes an Independent MP. Your majority is now one. It will be like what Julia Gillard has just had to endure with Craig Thomson (note I am not saying Horan has broken any laws).
Just as you are coping with that, then the MP for Wogistan shares his thoughts with the nation on how anyone who looks like a Muslim should be banned from flying. Once again this is no longer a matter just for NZ First. It is a matter for the Prime Minister. He is a Government MP. You face questions on whether he should remain an MP. If you say he should go, then you no longer have a majority. If you say he made a mistake but should stay an MP, then you become crippled as a Government with your mandate to govern being based on the MP for Wogistan’s vote. It is like Alamein Kopu but far worse. You drop another 5% in the polls and just one year into the term you are facing either an early election on inevitable defeat at the next election – regardless of how well you are doing with your policies.
This is no far fetched scenario. This is what could well have happened if NZ First had held the balance of power in 2011.
The question that should be keeping David Shearer and John Key awake at night, is the thought that this could be what awaits them after 2014. Winston by himself is capable of destablising the most stable Government. But add in some maverick MPs and it is a nightmare.
This Tom Scott cartoon hits the mark. How confident can you be that NZ First actually has a robust selection process where they vet, critique and scrutinise their candidates? Does anyone really think Horan and Prosser are aberrations?
That is not to suggest all NZ First MPs are flaky. They are not. To name just three, Barbara Stewart, Tracey Martin and (somewhat surprisingly) Andrew Williams have all been diligent MPs who have not caused any issues and are working hard.
But if you are a minor party in Government, you only need a couple of ones that implode, and the Government itself gets imperiled.
David Shearer and John Key should be be thinking very hard about their options after the next election. If you are a Labour or Green supporter, you should be thinking about what sort of Government a Labour-Green-NZ First Government would be. If you are a National supporter, you should be thankful that National ruled Peters out in 2008 and 2011, and hoping they do so again.
UPDATE: Stuff has a timely article looking at the NZ First caucus and asking which MP may go next.