Why Win­ston would make a good PM

Heather du Plessis-Al­lan

Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

You have to feel sorry for Win­ston Peters. When we count the scalps Jacin­da­ma­nia has claimed — Andrew Lit­tle, Peter Dunne, Me­tiria Turei — few of us in­clude Peters.

Yet he has lost a lot. His dream is now as good as dead.

Peters wanted to be Prime Min­is­ter. He came tan­ta­lis­ingly close.

New Zealand First al­most over­took Labour as the coun­try’s sec­ond big­gest party. One in­ter­nal Labour poll re­port­edly put Win­ston’s party at 19 per cent, nip­ping at Labour’s 20 per cent.

For­get king­maker. He was al­most king. If he had over­taken Labour, he could have claimed the PM’s crown in­stead of try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate his way into a few months in the job.

He would have made a good Prime Min­is­ter.

He’s much bet­ter than the rogue we of­ten write him off as. If you look closely, much of what seems like chaos is ac­tu­ally the ma­noeu­vrings of a very clever politi­cian.

Take his poli­cies, for ex­am­ple. In my view, some of them are ridicu­lous to the point of stu­pid­ity. There was this week’s idea to re-na­tion­alise shares in formerly state-owned elec­tric­ity com­pa­nies, the pro­posal to build Christchurch a sta­dium en­tirely out of New Zealand wood, and the plan to re­car­pet all state houses and gov­ern­ment build­ings with New Zealand wool car­pet.

Peters doesn’t have to im­ple­ment any of those poli­cies.

If he gets into power, he can walk away from them be­cause they are dumb and be­cause few of us will in­sist on him see­ing them through.

But for now, they drag in a lit­tle vote here and a lit­tle vote there, whether it’s the el­derly strug­gling to pay elec­tric­ity bills or sheep farm­ers suf­fer­ing the ef­fects of open mar­kets.

Prob­lems only oc­cur when his MPs draw na­tional at­ten­tion to his stupid poli­cies.

Peters is a mav­er­ick. It’s de­lib­er­ate. He has to be a mav­er­ick to get at­ten­tion. It’s no small achieve­ment that his party has ex­isted year af­ter year and de­spite his three-year ex­ile from Par­lia­ment.

But, the mav­er­ick in Op­po­si­tion al­ways turns into the mas­ter in Gov­ern­ment.

When Peters gets the chance, he rises to the oc­ca­sion. Trea­surer, For­eign Min­is­ter and Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, he has done them well.

He has delivered more than just the Su­perGold card. He gave un­der 6-year-olds free health­care. That has now been ex­tended to chil­dren un­der 13. He man­aged to get the United States to call New Zealand an ally for the first time in more than 20 years.

It says ev­ery­thing about his po­lit­i­cal abil­i­ties that he can nav­i­gate from mav­er­ick to mas­ter so deftly.

Still, there are times when the mav­er­ick goes too far. The Owen Glenn de­ba­cle dam­aged his rep­u­ta­tion. In my view, the un­der­tones of racism — or over­tones to some — don’t al­ways sit well.

He can’t quite shake the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing hard to man­age.

But now the chance of be­ing king has faded. He’s back to king­maker only, and the ques­tion is whom he’ll crown.

Any­one who pre­dicts Peters’ be­hav­iour with cer­tainty is ei­ther a fool or Peters him­self. It ul­ti­mately comes down to which party gives him the most good­ies af­ter the elec­tion.

But, as­sum­ing he gets of­fered ex­actly the same deal by both sides — and with ev­ery pos­si­ble caveat at­tached — my money is on Labour.

In 1992, Bill English sec­onded the mo­tion to kick Peters out of the Na­tional Party and the pair still barely get on. English as much as con­fessed that this week dur­ing the Her­ald’s Prime Min­is­ter Job In­ter­views. Re­la­tion­ships mat­ter to Peters.

So what does Peters do now?

If you look closely, much of what seems like chaos is ac­tu­ally the ma­noeu­vrings of a very clever politi­cian.

Now, he waits pa­tiently for Jacin­da­ma­nia to pass be­fore revving his own cam­paign into gear. By com­mit­ting to be­ing “re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive”, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has left a gap for Peters: “re­lent­lessly re­al­is­tic”. If Ardern takes the as­pi­ra­tional ap­proach, Peters can take the fear­mon­ger­ing ap­proach.

But who am I to tell Peters what to do? He’s the mas­ter of pol­i­tics. And the mav­er­ick.

It is no small achieve­ment that New Zealand First has ex­isted year af­ter year de­spite Win­ston Peters’ three-year ex­ile from Par­lia­ment.

Heather du Plessis-Al­lan u@HDPA

Dean Pur­cell

H Fol­low the lat­est at nzher­ald.co.nz/ vote2017

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