Will Winston offer Hobson’s choice?
The theory is Winston Peters is going to surprise us all by not going into coalition.
At Auckland airport this week, on my way down to Wellington, I bumped into a man from the capital.
He warned me I was heading back into a town going crazy with anticipation.
Wellingtonians have a relationship to politics that closely resembles a junkie’s to his glue bag.
Now there’s a vacuum. Nothing’s happening. No one knows what Winston’s thinking. So Wellington has turned to wild speculation.
After the man from the capital told me this, we laughed at silly old Wellingtonians then got down to the business of wild speculation.
He told me the latest theory going around town, that Winston Peters is going to surprise us all by not going into coalition. Instead, he may support either Labour or National from the cross benches.
Which means no Deputy Prime Minister’s job, no ministerial posts, no government limos.
After you’ve recovered from your initial disbelief at the prospect of Peters forgoing the baubles of office, there is a logic to it.
Firstly, ask yourself what Peters wants.
If your answer is along the lines of getting the best available job you’re never going to buy this argument. But if your answer is more about securing a legacy, this starts to sound plausible.
Becoming the first Ma¯ ori Prime Minister has gone, so one of the only ways left to do that is to ensure New Zealand First can survive years beyond his retirement and, sorry to go there, his life.
Remember every minor party in the history of MMP has suffered after the initial thrill of joining a coalition, like a male praying mantis getting lucky but then being eaten by his lover.
The Alliance died in Labour’s embrace, United Future died (very slowly), Act is still alive but the flesh is turning, and New Zealand First once broke apart and another time got voted out of Parliament.
Secondly, this scenario saves Peters from a tough decision. Labour probably appeals more for a number of reasons, not least that the alternative is propping up a fourth-term Government with nine years of baggage and big trust issues.
But that alternative, National, still won the election fair and square in the minds of many New Zealanders. And I wouldn’t underestimate that sentiment, even under MMP.
And finally, looking responsible will undo years of self-inflicted credibility damage. Remember how Peters said he didn’t want the baubles of office before taking the baubles of office in 2005?
Remember the Owen Glenn fiasco? Remember last week’s petulant press conference?
Much of that can be forgiven if he surprises us all with an uncharacteristically responsible decision.
Anyway, that’s what they’re saying in Wellington.