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Captain Key Will Run A Tight Ship

Peter Wilson
Peter Wilson
John Key
John Key

John Key has got what he wanted. National's leader and incoming prime minister will head a government with a clear majority and a mandate to make a fresh start.

And across Parliament's debating chamber will be the Labour Party in Opposition, also making a fresh start without Prime Minister Helen Clark and her deputy Michael Cullen in the top two positions.

The clean out delivered by voters on Saturday was comprehensive, and if there was to be a change of government this was the best way to do it.

National, with the ACT Party and Peter Dunne, hold 65 seats in a 122-member Parliament. Labour, the Greens and Jim Anderton have 52.

The Maori Party have the other five seats. There is no kingmaker.

Key will quickly settle the terms for a coalition with ACT, and Dunne, United Future's only MP in the new Parliament, will be given a ministerial position.

There will be discussions with the Maori Party because Key wants to bring them into his fold, but he doesn't need them to ensure he can govern and hold the confidence of Parliament. No party can hold a gun to his head.

Key is looking to the longer term, he knows the next election isn't going to be as easy as this one was. By including minor parties in his new government he will strengthen his position against the Labour/Greens opposition.

Labour is losing its leader and deputy leader, Clark and Cullen, the duo who have, in reality, run the show for the last nine years.

They have both indicated they will stay to help their party through its rebuilding phase.

Labour has come out of the election with 43 seats compared with 50 it won in 2005. It hasn't been demolished, far from it. There is a core of experienced front bench politicians and a host of keen new MPs in its ranks.

Phil Goff is the heir apparent. For years, he has never spoiled his chances by talking about it or launching any reckless and what would have been futile, destablising bids for the top job.

Annette King is the obvious choice for deputy leader but there will be others who fancy their chances. Labour's caucus will make the decisions and new MPs will get their first real taste of power politics.

While Labour sorts itself out, Key will be sorting out his cabinet.

The only positions he has announced are his deputy Bill English for finance and Tony Ryall for health.

Most of the other posts are likely to follow the portfolio positions his MPs have held since he became party leader. He will tweak it here and there but no big surprises are expected.

The final results of the election show party standings which are not much different to poll predictions well before the campaign started, which indicates a substantial number of voters had made up their minds and weren't swayed by what they heard or saw during the frenetic four weeks.

The sideshows and the allegations of dirty tricks made no apparent difference. It was time for a change, a majority of voters believed, and that was what they delivered.

As for Parliament itself, it is a tidier place. New Zealand First is gone and so there is one less minor party.

Peter Dunne will become a minister and will come to be regarded in much the same way Jim Anderton was in the Labour-led government.

Neither of those two was able to bring in a second MP, they are loners who will struggle to keep their parties alive during the next three years.

On Saturday night Winston Peters was insisting NZ First would thrive, even though it has no MPs.

He must know how unlikely that is. Without the platform of the debating chamber to raise its profile, NZ First could follow the misfortunes of parties such as the Alliance, which contested the election but hardly anyone noticed.

ACT and the Greens will thrive. Rodney Hide easily held Epsom and ACT has five MPs now compared with just two in the last Parliament. While Hide is likely to get a cabinet post and be occupied with that, there will be four others to make sure no one forgets it is there -- and one of them is Sir Roger Douglas.

The Greens have eight MPs compared with six in the last Parliament and are easily the third-largest party in Parliament.

It was an unfortunate irony for them that although they have a stronger representation than ever before, they are again shut out of government.

Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons talks about working with National on areas of common ground, but there won't be much of that. The new government might use the Greens, now and then, to show it is environment-friendly but it will be at National's grace and favour.

The Maori Party didn't achieve its aim of winning all seven seats. It was thwarted by Labour's Parekura Horomia and Nanaia Mahuta but is has added one, Te Tai Tonga, to the four it held in the last Parliament.

Co-leader Pita Sharples is raising heroic speculation about ministerial positions outside cabinet for some of his MPs after his party has gone through its consultation process with its supporters.

Most of those supporters gave their party votes to Labour, but Sharples makes the valid point that it wouldn't be much use shunning National when it is going to lead the government.

He wants gains for Maori, he even talks about having control of ministerial funding in areas that affect Maori.

Key will accommodate him, to an extent, but the Maori Party isn't likely to get its hands on any levers of power.

One of Key's main points during the campaign was that the Labour-led government wasn't good at handling problems because it was beset by distractions. He isn't going to let that happen to him, it's going to be a tight ship under captain Key.

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