The best result John Key could have got

John Key got his best result: a majority on his own or with young David Seymour if National’s vote drops on the special votes as much as the half per cent it dropped in 2011. He didn’t need the Conservatives to keep him safe from Winston Peters.

In fact the Conservatives helped him by boosting the “wasted vote”, with Internet Mana and others, to 6.4 per cent. So Key needed only 46.8 per cent to break even and another 0.8 per cent for 61 seats.

The result is that Key in effect can continue to drive deregulatory and business-friendly policies without the constraint both Peter Dunne and the Maori party applied from time to time in the last term.

Specifically, he can drive through radical Resource Management Act changes and more labour market flexibility and respond in like vein to other issues as they come up.

But Key is not unconstrained. To get a fourth term he can’t get too far adrift from mainstream public opinion. That is why, for example, one of the four strategic policy areas for this term is natural resources, initially water but also revisiting the balance between economic development and environmental integrity, with climate change in tow.

He also has more potholing to do on issues like inequality and poverty, house affordability and foreign land ownership.

His wider problem comes from the decaying vote for his three support parties.

United Future got just 0.22% party vote, not enough for a quota, so Peter Dunne is now an “overhang” and the reason Parliament will be 121 MPs again.

And Labour has squeezed the Maori party into just one Maori electorate. Te Ururoa Flavell will have only newcomer list candidate Maarama Fox with him and no mandate from Maori generally.

That leaves Key without a solid support partner for the 2017 election. He could have worked the Conservatives into something like that but they got stuck just over 4 per cent, as the Christian Coalition did in 1996 and New Zealand First in 1999 and 2008.

Still, if New Zealand First fades, along with an ageing Peters, that might open space for the Conservatives to join Key in 2017.

Labour is in deep trouble but has a glimmer of opportunity.

Some old hands had already before election day been talking of the need to replace the president and secretary to start making the party look less the captive of minorities. The return of Stuart Nash and Kelvin Davis will help that. Labour needs to quickly retire some of the older re-elected MPs. And it has a leadership issue.

One sliver of good news is that its electorate percentage is very close to the 35% it got in 2011. That is a foundation on which Labour could build — just as it could have, but didn’t, in the past three years.

The Greens went down, not up, to half a per cent below the 2011 election night figure. New MP James Shaw understands that the economy is global which could bring the Greens nearer the mainstream.

One lesson from the election: cynical deals eventually don’t pay off. Dunne is now an overhang, ACT is headed for overhang territory with 0.7 per cent and Hone Harawira and his hard left mates are in the sinbin for a mega-cynical deal with Kim Dotcom.

So what chance of a Key fourth term? Don’t bet against it. But there is a long way to run.