For Labour the nod is a short-term gain, an attempt at a humiliating poke in the eye for National and a result that would make it harder to get a majority on legislation such as Resource Management Act reforms. But short-term sugar rushes are always followed by a crash.
Enter 2017 and the next election. The reason Peters is a reluctant beneficiary of Labour’s endorsement is because he knows Northland is inherently a conservative electorate. It is partly because Peters is also inherently conservative that he has a chance.
If he does succeed in putting the “win” into Winston, Labour could be handing National a future coalition partner.
An electorate seat would be a powerful security blanket for Peters. So far he has refused to say if he will stand again in 2017 – when he will be 72. It’s a safe bet he will if he wins the by-election, if only to try to cement his hold on the seat. If he chooses well, he might even get Northland to accept an NZ First successor (hello, Shane Jones?). He will not want to do anything that might imperil his party’s hold on the seat and return it to the precipice of the 5 per cent threshold.
Peters has felt the wrath of conservative voters scorned in Tauranga and knows it is National they flock to – and in bulk. Winning a seat in a by-election is one thing. Keeping it is quite another. If Peters wants to hold the seat come 2017, cuddling up to Labour is risky territory. So, if Peters holds the balance of power in 2017, Labour could well find its gift to NZ First was a gift to National in disguise.
Labour’s effective endorsement of Peters, if it works, may turn out to be one of their bigger strategic blunders.