Even if National loses the Northland by-election (which I don't think it will), things won't change quite as much as voters are being told they will. So why all the forecasts of  pestilence, blasting, mildew and locusts if Winston Peters wins?

There is an old Chinese curse that goes something along the lines of "may you live in an electorate which becomes important to the Government's ease of legislating in the House".

Because as far as I can tell, Northland's future looks to be as one big completely asphalted super-highway along which internet cafes sit, offering high-speed broadband internet access to eco-tourists who have comfortably driven to the region to swim with the dolphins.

Anyway, that is the vision being dangled before Northlanders by John Key and his legion/host/gaggle - what is the appropriate collective noun? - of attendant Ministers on their repeated ventures into the newly discovered tracts of land north of Warkworth.

However, this future apparently is a frail and tender seedling that may wither and die if the right people are not on hand to nurture it. National's candidate, Mark Osborne, wants the people of Northland to know this:

Mr Osborne, who has risen from electorate treasurer to potential MP in just weeks, even warned a flagship National roading project to extend State Highway 1 as a motorway further into Northland, could be derailed if Peters beat him.

"If the people of Northland want the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension, which is vital to open up Northland to our biggest market . . . if we want that, there's only one choice, and that's to vote for me," Osborne said.

If he lost the by-election there was a "real risk" the road might not go ahead.

I'm going to assume that when Mr Osborne says "real risk", he means "a risk that is real" rather than "the future holds an unlimited number of paths and who of us really can say with any certainty which is the one that we ultimately shall journey down". With that assumption in place, it is hard to know where the danger he sees is coming from.

Let's imagine the worst case scenario for him and his party. Winston Peters wins the by-election in Northland.

For Mr Osborne, that result probably represents game over for his political ambitions. It would be hard to see National wanting to reselect him in 2017 if he fluffs his chance this time. So that's a less than optimal outcome from his point of view.

But what does it portend for National and its power to govern? Well, it means that party is in exactly the same situation as it was between 2011-2014. It will have 59 seats in the House, meaning it needs either David Seymour and Peter Dunne together, or else the maori Party, to agree to any legislative changes that it wants to make. 

Obviously that situation is not as good as the one National found itself in after the counting of special votes (which in turn was not as good as the one it thought it would be in on election night itself). It is preferable to have to rely on only one other party to do what you want, rather than two others. It makes life - or, rather, the process of turning your desired policies into law - quite a bit easier.

However, even if a Peters win complicates the National Party's job somewhat, it hardly changes the game completely. National was able to govern quite comfortably and successfully for a full term with the exact same arrangements it will face in the case of Peters' becoming the MP for Northland.

And on the issue that Mr Osborne says there is a "real risk" of change occuring - the completion of the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension - there's no appreciable chance of that taking place. Here's what United Future's 2014 election manifesto said about the Party's policy on transport:

Complete the Roads of National Significance programme, across New Zealand (including the construction of the Transmission Gully highway).

So Peter Dunne - the vote in the House that becomes more important in delivering National a majority if Peters wins - thinks building the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension (one ot the Roads of National Significance) is a good thing to do. That's because he's been a proponent of the policy from the beginning, in large part because one of the projects it will deliver is a motorway through his electorate that he's been fighting for for years.

Having to rely on his vote in order to progress the project thus hardly seems to put it at "real risk". 

We can extend this to some other "scare stories" that National is trotting out at the moment:

 If National lost the seat it had held for more than half a century, there could be consequences, such as throwing into doubt the South Korean free trade agreement (FTA) he is due to sign in Seoul this month, because it would require a vote in Parliament.

 "If we lose Northland, it's not costless," Key said.

 "We may not be able to pass it - it's not a free lunch if you think about it. From our point of view, we actually need to hold that seat if we can, for what we like to do.

 "As we can see with the other political parties, they're all over the place when it comes to FTAs."

Well ... respectfully, I disagree. Here's the Labour Party's view on the disirability of such FTA's from 2014:

New Zealand will continue to promote bilateral free trade agreements, including with countries such as India, Russia and South Korea where they can benefit market access for our exporters. 

I know that there's probably lots of Labour quotes out there about the TPPA and the Party's concerns over that instrument. But when push comes to shove, voting in the House, there's no way that Labour is going to torpedo a deal with South Korea that gives New Zealand exporters access to that market on the same footing as those from the US, Canada and Australia. This is, remember, the party that entered into just such deals with SIngapore, Thailand and China when it was in Government.

None of which is to say that a Peters victory would not change anything at all. Obviously on some issues the National Government would find its plans very much complicated, if not stymied altogether. Amendments to the RMA are the most immediate issue that come to mind. Others may have other issues they think will be dealth with differently in a post-Peters victory world; if so, feel free to share in the comments section.

But in terms of the particular things that National appears to want to warn Northlanders about? Well, for them a Peters win is just an acorn, not the sky falling in.

Comments (4)

by william blake on March 13, 2015
william blake

n. coll. Politicians (nat). Lie, odium, parliament.

by Lee Churchman on March 13, 2015
Lee Churchman

I would have thought it would depend heavily on the manner of a Peters' victory. If things continue on as they are and he wins, then it does little more than make the government look bad. 

But if the details of the Sabin business end up in public before polling day, I would think that the National Party would have a much worse time of it, any denials notwithstanding.

by Ian MacKay on March 14, 2015
Ian MacKay

Peter Dunne said recently that he would rethink his Agreement with National should Winston win, because it would strengthen his bargaining power hugely. Think reform of the RMA for instance.

by Lesley Ford on March 17, 2015
Lesley Ford

Collective noun: a cabinet of ministers, maybe a trunk/suitcase, or pehaps in this case a sty.

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