By Patrick Gower
There's a lot of talk around the shop that John Key has "got them mid-term blues".
Apparently the typewriters have been telling their interviewers that all the sideshows are wearing the Prime Minister down and are symbolic of some great sea-change.
Well, in my experience, the typewriter is often wrong.
It's always best to stick to the facts, and to steal a phrase from the Prime Minister, let's "look at the counter-factual here".
JOHN KEY OWNS THE MIDDLE GROUND
Key has 49.8 percent in the latest 3 News Reid Research poll. That means John Key owns the centre voter. Historically, this is where elections are won and lost. So until something serious changes here - no worries.
SIDE-SHOWS DON'T ALWAYS MAKE A CIRCUS
Can't see too many centre voters changing their vote because the MFAT reforms were bungled. Nor can I see too many voters switching camps because Nick Smith resigned 12 hours later than he should have.
OPPOSITION LEADER STRUGGLING TO MAKE AN IMPACT
Getting the middle ground back is David Shearer's job. At the moment he is focussed on stopping his rival David Cunliffe from going on The Nation to be interviewed - great news for Key.
OPPOSITION IS A MESS, PART I
Could Labour, the Greens and NZ First really work together as a Government? Very unusual trio. Nobody has ever been able to explain just how this could work to me. This question will only get asked more and more over the next two-and-a-half years - no answers on the horizon.
OPPOSITION IS A MESS, PART II
The Labour/Greens/NZ First troika would likely rely on Labour leading the Government despite not having the most votes. Is the New Zealand public ready for this? Er, no. In fact, they probably won't want a bar of it. Lot of work to do to persuade the public of this.
COMETH THE CONSERVATIVES
Colin Craig has arrived and while he comes with his own problems, the benefits outweigh the negatives. No more wasted vote out on the far right. The chance even that the Conservatives can sneak in and nab some of the Pacific vote off Labour. What's not to like from Key's perspective? OK, he may put the frighteners up some centre voters - but all minor parties do this. Brand Key should technically be able to overcome this.
WINSTON HAS TORY BLOOD
So it may be that Winston Peters holds the balance of power. Even though he wants to teach Key a lesson, Winston probably doesn't want his last ride in Government to be in the unworkable troika. He has Tory blood in his veins - and getting Key to come to him will be enough of a victory for the old stager. I predict Winston abstaining on confidence and supply in exchange for policy gains - both sides save face. No doubt National/NZ First will work together on a couple of issues this term to warm up to it.
KEY AND WINSTON AGREE ON KEEPING RETIREMENT AGE AT 65
Labour wants to raise the retirement age. Winston would never go into or support a Government that did that, so the much-pilloried "I'll resign" call could turn out to be a political blessing for Key.
Things aren't looking that flash for ACT. This isn't particularly good news for Key, but the reality is it has happened two-and-a-half years out from the election. Plenty of time to start looking for other options, rather than an election year combustion. A lot of good people are still in ACT, such as ACT on Campus - maybe a rebuilt ACT or another vehicle will be up and running for 2017.
So all in all, while there's a bit to worry about, the counter-factual is that National is in a much stronger position than the Opposition.
I actually believe Key is looking quite up-for-it and motivated at the moment - I've heard him say on a number of occasions recently that he wants to "get stuff done".
And how much mileage have the Opposition made out of this? Basically zero.
The reality is that Key holds all the cards.
And maybe it's the Opposition that should have those mid-term blues.