Goff had his strongest performance last night on the TV3 two horse debate. Key was off and neglected to hammer into Labour's weaker points, instead resorting to defensive explanations of asset sales and accusations that a Labour-led government would be unstable and (new Key word) "volatile" because it would be dependent on Winston. The opinion "reactor" worm favoured Goff not because it was a personality contest, but because the undecided voters are generally to the Left - those who would vote to keep the National government had already made up their minds a long time ago. The undecideds will swing to Labour and the Left in these circumstances.
I said earlier that it would be a mistake for the Nats to even mention Winston as this gives him the oxygen of attention to survive and indeed to cross the 5% threshold. They would be best to forget him because they can't scare any additional votes over to them by invoking Winston. Votes cannot be gained at this point by National, only shed from them.
The Nats are panicking as their party vote numbers sink south of the unattainable 50% and descending on a trajectory below the high tide of 47-48% that their own backers have credited them with and at that point they become dependent on Act and the Maori Party to stay in government.
Goff turned the allegation of instability around nicely when he said Act isn't exactly the picture of stability. That had the ring of truth in it to pop that bubble. Act is in a meltdown of its own making with its musical chairs Nat retread MPs hijacking the parasite micro-party as a personal vehicle and the Maori Party will probably have only Pete and Tariana returned - so the Nats are in trouble. In trouble and losing their cool.
And when Key mentioned Labour would be dependent on Mana... Goff immediately shut it down with his most direct spurning yet when he said on the issue of having Hone Harawira in government - "I will never do that!" It doesn't get any clearer than that. Key went on to assume the Greens would go with Labour. So Key - at least - takes Goff at his word on that. Issue shut down. Probably quite a good tactical decision to make for Labour, but undeserving and unhelpful to build a future government. Ruling out the Mana movement - as Goff did on Radio NZ yesterday morning - is also a step too far. But probably what the middle waivering voters in the centre need to hear to give them confidence to go with Labour. Some arrangement will most likely have to be made between Mana and whatever Labour can put together (ie. with the Greens) at any rate if Winston gets in and backs Labour to form a government.
I wonder what the Labour caucus position is on ruling out a) Hone, and b) Mana - or is this just Phil's personal thing?
If the issue is stability all the parties actually stack up quite well - the fact is every MMP administration has gone full term (although Clark called the 2002 election earlier in the year to catch National napping - which it did). Hone himself stuck it out backing the John Key National government as a member of the Maori Party for two years and when he left he did it properly and called a by-election. That's not unstable or volatile.
However the Mana caucus - on current polling it could be the top 4, I hope more - may prefer to sit in opposition. Government with Labour and the Greens would be desirable if it were possible, but I'm not sure Labour is ready for that or that Mana is prepared even if they were ready.
Claire Trevett in the NZ Herald also calls it for Goff. The TV3 panel afterwards were also saying Goff did a good job and that Key didn't make much of an impact.
Here is how the possible coalition combinations are looking given what we know:
ruled out: National, Act, Mana
ruled in: NZ First, Greens
? Maori Party, UF
ruled out: Labour, NZ First (Mana?)
ruled in: Act, UF, Maori Party