It’s official be nice to Winston month
Almost 40 years after Winston Peters entered Parliament, this last remaining link to the Muldoon era is shaping up as the decisive player in the 2017 election.
Peters and his party have always been good finishers in election campaigns. Currently, they’re already sitting at 11 per cent in the most recent major political poll and that result has been no flash in the pan, either. For several months, New Zealand First’s averaged support has been running at similar levels.
The same polling also indicates that the government’s partners (Peter Dunne, Act, the Maori Party) would not currently deliver National a parliamentary majority, post-election.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Peters is being heavily wooed. In fact July, August and September might as well be officially designated as ‘‘Be Nice To Winston’’ months by the two major parties. Labour and National have both been striving mightily of late to ensure the New Zealand First leader will feel sympatico with them, after election day.
For example, did Labour rail against rank opportunism and denigrate former Labour MP Shane Jones when he recently hitched his wagon to New Zealand First? Not at all. Instead, Little gritted his teeth and suggested Jones would add ‘‘ intellectual grunt’’ to his new mates.
True, that comment could be taken as an oblique criticism of the IQ levels of NZ First’s current line-up – but it sounded almost like a compliment.
Crucially, Little avoided calling Peters himself into question. So far, only the Green Party has felt motivated to ripple the pond. The nightmare scenario for the Greens would be a re-run of 2005, when Helen Clark chose Peters instead of the Greens and formed a centrist coalition with him, rather than moving further leftwards.
Clearly, Jones’ political comeback has once again put in peril the Greens’ hopes of governing in tandem with Labour. Already, Greens MP Barry Coates has threatened to trigger a fresh election rather than accept another Labour/NZ First government.
Similarly, co-leader Metiria Turei has chosen to tackle New Zealand First, head on. Last week, Turei called out Peters for what she deemed its ‘‘very racist approach to immigration’’ and even attributed NZ First’s polling success to its reactionary stance on the issue. Peters counterattacked by attributing the leaky homes debacle to the Greens’ record of ‘‘stupidity’’ and environmental purism.
While this ongoing exchange of insults has some entertainment value, the more salient point would be: does National agree with Turei about the allegedly racist nature of NZ First’s position on immigration, or is it more onside with Peters?
When questioned, all thatPM Bill English has said to date is that Peters didn’t strike him personally as a racist.
Once again, there’s been an over-riding desire not to antagonise Peters personally. Since National is currently polling 20 points ahead of Labour, Peters will almost certainly be talking to his old party first, when it comes to forming the next government. What compromises would then become necessary on say, superannuation or immigration?
Call it sentimentality… but there would be a certain aptness if a septuagenarian Peters should choose to dance his last waltz in government with the same party with whom it all started for him, way back then.