What Winston’s tea leaves say
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.