What Win­ston’s tea leaves say

Upper Hutt Leader - - CONVERSATIONS - GOR­DON CAMP­BELL TALK­ING POL­I­TICS

North Korea aside, one­man-band po­lit­i­cal move­ments don’t tend to pay much at­ten­tion to a suc­ces­sion plan. Even when they do, such plans have a habit of un­rav­el­ling in un­fore­seen ways – be it Mao or Stalin, Hugo Chavez or Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni.

In the case of Win­ston Peters, he’s en­ter­ing what he’s said will be his last term in Par­lia­ment, yet the ques­tion of who will suc­ceed him at the helm of New Zealand First re­mains en­tirely un­pre­dictable. Pre­sum­ably, his party’s fu­ture will be a fac­tor in whether Peters chooses to pro­pel Na­tional or Labour into gov­ern­ment.

The dead­line for that de­ci­sion is al­most upon us. The special votes tally is due by Oc­to­ber 7 and a gov­ern­ment will be formed barely a week later. Clearly, that’s not a re­al­is­tic time­frame for go­ing through the pol­icy de­tails line by line.

That’s un­for­tu­nate for Labour, which could cred­i­bly ar­gue that NZ First’s pol­icy pack­age looks much more like a cen­tre-left doc­u­ment than a Na­tional one. How­ever, the NZ First man­i­festo also looks more like the wish­list of a party in op­po­si­tion, rather than a prag­matic pro­gramme for a party in gov­ern­ment. Re­al­is­ti­cally, the cost of NZ First’s health pol­icy alone would be un­af­ford­able for a gov­ern­ment of any stripe.

Ul­ti­mately, Peters would prob­a­bly walk away rea­son­ably happy with a few Cab­i­net posts, three free an­nual GP vis­its for gold card car­ri­ers and - cru­cially - the blank cheque for MFAT that his party pol­icy de­mands. It says: ‘‘Pro­vide the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade with re­sources it needs.’’ What­ever it needs? Well, Peters did man­age to score a huge boost in MFAT’s fund­ing be­tween 2005-2008, and this new pledge seems to con­firm Peters’ in­ter­est in re­gain­ing his old post as For­eign Min­is­ter.

If so, Peters would be out of the coun­try a lot on of­fi­cial busi­ness. Log­i­cally, this would leave him less time to man­age a three-way ar­range­ment with Labour and its un­tried leader, even as his party sorts out the suc­ces­sion bat­tle be­tween the in­ter­loper Shane Jones, and the old guard, cur­rently rep­re­sented by Ron Mark. The bat­tle could get messy.

If you be­lieved the me­dia, Jones is a rough di­a­mond with su­per­hero powers of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Kiwi males – yet there’s never been any bal­lot box ev­i­dence of that al­leged ap­peal. Jones en­tered Par­lia­ment on Labour’s list in 2005 and stood (un­suc­cess­fully) for Labour in North­land in 2008. In 2011, he lost to Pita Sharples in Ta­maki Makau­rau, but the party list res­cued him once again. In Labour’s lead­er­ship race in 2013, Jones came in last among the three can­di­dates on of­fer. In Whangarei this year, Jones came in 10,000 votes be­hind the Na­tional can­di­date, and barely ahead of Labour’s can­di­date.

His ri­vals for the Peters suc­ces­sion will no doubt bring this dis­mal track record to the ta­ble.

Peters him­self may choose to be else­where. He can do so more read­ily in the wake of a clean, two party deal with Na­tional than if he’s daily de­fend­ing a far slim­mer ma­jor­ity in a three-way ar­range­ment led by Labour.

Thank­fully though, all of this spec­u­la­tion will soon be laid to rest.

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