Baubles, bribes – and public benefits
Bill English’s selfproclaimed moral authority is gone. Jacinda Ardern’s star dust has settled. And as the leaders fly into Wellington to begin negotiations proper, it is Winston Peters’ day.
Peters says he and the NZ First board will not be swayed by personal acrimony, vendettas and the baubles of office. They will simply consider which partner will allow them to best deliver on their key policies. And they will listen to good advice.
‘‘They’ll be seriously influenced by how you feel about things,’’ Peters told me before the election, a twinkle in his eye.
Surely not, I replied. ‘‘Jonathan, on our board, they speak of nothing else,’’ Peters grinned. ‘‘They ask me every weekend, how is Jonathan, what’s he doing, what’s he writing?’’
So be it, then. Here is some serious advice for Peters and his board as they embark on the enormous responsibility of negotiating a government. Take your wins where you can get them. By all means extend the Goldcard, restore the Super age to 65, cut immigration numbers and shut down land sales to foreigners. But be honest about what you concede. When – inevitably – you back down on a referendum on the Maori seats or shifting Auckland’s port to Whangarei, acknowledge that in coalition politics, you can’t get everything you want.
Reject the so-called baubles of office. This is not just about whether your partner accompanies you on overseas trip as Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is about turning down Ministerial posts like racing, forestry and fisheries, where there might be any perception that you could be compromised by friends or donors in those industries.
Don’t let it get personal. There are a few grudges, after you questioned English’s integrity over your leaked superannuation file. But as English and Ardern tread gingerly around you, lest they cause any offence, remember the interests of New Zealand outweigh any personal acrimony. Sound sensible? It should – those are your own words. Bring the public with you. Ignore the excitable constitutional lawyers looking for the latest innovation in government formation. This is about public relations. If the decision on who leads our next government rests with you, the onus will be on you to clearly explain your thinking. This is no time for bluster.
It’s about sustainability. Policies and politicians come and go. Retirement age and taxes go up and down. But what New Zealanders demand is stable government that keeps the interests of all New Zealanders at heart – not just our friends and neighbours, or the swing voters, or the big political donors. We don’t need moral authority. We don’t need star dust. We don’t ask the government to solve all our problems for us.
We just ask that the government level the playing field and provide us all with the same opportunities to solve our own problems.