Having watched the results come in, it seems like we have almost a dead heat - though I think the numbers favour Labour. Labour is simply better at MMP than National, and Clark is better at compromise and cutting deals than Brash. I may have to eat these words later, but I think Helen has secured her third term.
But what sort of third term will it be? With no clear majority, Labour will have to go begging for support on every piece of legislation. They will have to consult widely, and build a broad consensus in order to get anything to pass. While I want them to pursue a more left-wing agenda, I cannot really say that this is a Bad Thing. Disparate parties signing off on a policy gives it legitimacy far greater than a bare majority would suggest. And at the worst, it means policy stasis, which isn't so bad. For all my criticisms, current policy settings aren't too bad - and they're certainly a damn sight better than National's preferred one. Tonight's result means the Revolution won't be restarting - and that is something worth celebrating.
The exact numbers will have to wait until the special votes are counted. The Greens traditionally do well in these (browsing the 2002 numbers they frequently do as well as National), so I think Labour's position will strengthen slightly. But this will not change the need for consultation and consensus.
As for winners and losers, the first point is that (as the Doctor said the other night), everybody lives! No-one fell below the threshold, and so we've had the most democratic election ever, with only around 1.2% of the electorate disenfranchised due to the threshold. That's as good as we are ever going to get, and it is something to celebrate, even if it means we have people we hate back in.
Helen is an obvious winner; as mentioned above, she'll probably get her third term. So is Don - he's rebuilt his party to a position where it will be a strong contender in 2008. While the only way to go was up, he's still done a good job of it - and hopefully some of his 22 new MPs will do a better job of holding the government to account than his present tired old faces have done. The Maori Party obviously deserve congratultion - in 15 short months they've gone from nothing to four seats, and fulfiled the promise of an independent Maori political party which can negotiate across the table rather than from under it. And Rodney Hide of course, who worked hard for Epsom.
The losers are sadly the Greens - who are back in reduced numbers, and may very well lose Nandor if the specials don't go their way - and Matt Robson. He will be sadly missed, and I hope he finds some other way to continue his good work. I won't be shedding any tears however for John Tamihere (cat-beater!), or for Stephen Franks, Murial Newman, and the rest of the ACT MPs. While claiming to be liberals, they were voted conservatively on the important issues, and I'm glad to see the back of them.
Finally, while Brash is a winner, he's also a loser. Sure, he's rebuilt for 2008, but this will just encourage his underlings to roll him so they get a crack at being PM then. Gerry is probably already sharpening the knives. Be warned. The other loser is the National party as a whole: while they may have won Tauranga, they'll have to put up with the embarassment of Bob the Builder scratching his crotch and talking about his testicles in Parliament for the next three years. And I don't think the Standing orders are going to stop people from putting it on TV...