Helen Clark had two options after the election, she has two parties to negotiate confidence and supply with, but neither party in itself could deliver the numbers. She had 51 seats including Anderton's, and had to choose between 6 seats and the Greens, or 7 seats and NZ First. Let's consider those choices. The Maori Party and United Future individually or together, do not deliver enough. She needed either NZ First or the Greens, with one of the others (or both). She chose Winston soooo what does this really mean?
1) The Greens will be fuming, Labour knows the Greens would never bring down a Labour Government if it meant National had a chance. The Greens have got some crumbs, but any deal with the Greens would have to have included the Maori Party, as it would have been nearly impossible for Winston to work with them. The Greens have been pushed to the sidelines - which means there is little hope for those on the left that a radical social agenda would be implemented - in fact it has been ruled out. The Greens would have wanted a coalition supported by the Maori party - that would have certainly fired up the left of Labour, but would almost certainly have led Labour to certain defeat in 2008. In addition, the bad blood between Labour and the Maori Party is still too fresh. Clark has moved to the centre.
2) The Maori Party is pleased enough that it did well out of the election, and can now perform as a parliamentary entity voting on a case by case basis. This will please its supporters who would have been incensed had it backed National, but also did not want to be Labour's walkovers. It has done ok - and can wait till 2008 to build a greater presence. Certainly Pita Sharples is an enormous asset compared to Tariana.
3) United Future must be relieved that it matters, a little bit, to Labour. However, it can hardly claim that it is a party of the centre now that it is keeping Labour in power for two terms in a row. Peter Dunne can only claim credit for stopping Labour doing a range of things he doesn't like, and then there is Transmission Gully - which is his own pet Wellington Think Big project which has a negative value to the nation, and worth very few votes.
4) NZ First has to be rather happy about its position. Winston has had Helen Clark surrender a big portfolio to him, albeit outside Cabinet, and some policy success. He will lose support from those who vote for him and hate Helen Clark, much like he would've had he backed Brash. His Treaty of Waitangi policy is nearly in tatters from supporting Labour, and he may well have ensured his political retirement in 2008 - not enough in Tauranga will support him for stopping tolls on the second Tauranga Harbour Bridge.
5) Labour must be relieved to be in government, but concerned about what it has got itself in for. Two parties that voted en masse against civil unions and prostitution law reform now keep Labour in power -foreign affairs is not an important enough portfolio to be in Cabinet, and Labour now looks to have been a bit too desperate to govern. Shades of 1996-1998 - except it was National then. Many Labour supporters, hopeful for a Green/Maori coalition will be disappointed and disgusted - very few people are ambivalent about Winston, and Labour will pay just like National did. The one card Labour has that is most useful is that it has four parties that it can seek support on legislation - which means it is NOT dependent entirely on NZ First and United Future, just rather hamstrung by them. However, it will be interesting to see how long that can be sustained.
6) National must be smiling, this government looks a bit of a joke and could prove to be the death knell for NZ First and strip more votes away from United Future, both of which will probably benefit National. Now National with a revitalised caucus can sit back and look like a government in waiting, and watch three or less years of Clark using Winston, Dunne and when she wants to - the Greens and Maori Party. National has been burnt by Winston's games before, and will now use every chance to show that he and Dunne are parties that support the status quo.
7) ACT? Well while still thrilled to still be around, ACT can laugh at the Winston games, while it goes through its own internal rumblings about where it is heading. It is still a party of conservatives and liberals, who differ on many issues - but once again, for the fourth MMP parliamentary term, it is not in government.
Helen Clark is a political prostitute willing to sell out to Winston Peters to remain in power, but I am sure the Nats would do the same, again - but now it is time to watch the games, and see how much NZ First brings down this government.