If Win­ston picks Labour it will be Jacindamania again

Fo­cus of first term would be fresh new Prime Min­is­ter and no one will re­mem­ber who put her in power

Weekend Herald - - VIEWPOINTS -

ith the fo­cus this week be­ing on Win­ston Peters, coali­tion talks and missed dead­lines, it has been easy to for­get that pol­i­tics could be turned on its head in a few short days.

Jacinda Ardern could be Prime Min­is­ter and draw­ing up her new Cab­i­net.

Peters will be a foot­note to the 2017 elec­tion. The story for the next three years will be about New Zealand’s new young Prime Min­is­ter, the Trudeau of the South Pa­cific.

Who put her there will be ir­rel­e­vant un­less things go wrong, and then Peters’ role in her el­e­va­tion will be re­mem­bered. That’s the only time the “coali­tion of losers” will give David Sey­mour any more head­lines.

If things go right, it will be Ardern’s suc­cess, not Peters’ and not New Zealand First’s.

She will be pre­par­ing to make her first over­seas trip as Prime Min­is­ter to Apec in Viet­nam next month.

She and David Parker will work with out­go­ing Trade Min­is­ter Todd McClay ( in the na­tional in­ter­est) to make a good show of want­ing to change the ob­jec­tion­able parts of TPP with­out ac­tu­ally with­draw­ing from it — she does not want to start her premier­ship with the sum­mer of dis­con­tent. She will be a more con­sci­en­tious se­nior part­ner to New Zealand First and the Greens than He­len Clark or John Key was to their ju­nior part­ners. She will never use the term se­nior or ju­nior.

She will re­fer to their pos­i­tive role ev­ery week and be so in­clu­sive in her run­ning of gov­ern­ment that New Zealand First will feel smoth­ered. He­len Clark will school her in the art of strong lead­er­ship, not suck­ing- up lead­er­ship.

Some­one with more in­ter­per­sonal skills than Peters will ask her to back off a bit, un­til the next time New Zealand First feels ex­cluded, then it will be back to in­clu­sive gov­ern­ment.

Peters ini­tially won’t mind all the at­ten­tion go­ing to Ardern be­cause he thinks it will only last for six months.

It will not do his party any harm with women and af­ter the hype has died down, he can make se­ri­ous progress on mak­ing New Zealand First the party of re­gional New Zealand, and re­gain­ing North­land for New Zealand First.

The job would be eas­ier, how­ever, if Shane Jones and Ron Mark could be re­lied on to reach a state of de­tente. Any frac­ture in party dis­ci­plines or the tini­est crack would be ex­ploited by Na­tional.

If the Na­tional and Labour agree­ments are sim­i­lar in the mag­ni­tude of gains, there are many more ap­par­ent rea­sons from a New Zealand First per­spec­tive to in­stall a new party than a stag­nat­ing fourthterm Na­tional gov­ern­ment.

It would be the most ob­vi­ous way of de­liv­er­ing change he promised at the elec­tion, even if it is un­der­pinned by un­cer­tainty. It would bring ex­cite­ment back to pol­i­tics.

But to re­phrase Peters’ no- win lament of last Sun­day, it could also be a lose- lose choice for New Zealand First.

Peters will not just be con­sid­er­ing which party would be best to lead the Gov­ern­ment. He will also be con­sid­er­ing which party would make the most dan­ger­ous op­po­si­tion to New Zealand First over the next three years.

That dan­ger will ex­ist for New Zealand First no mat­ter what ar­range­ment it opts for, full coali­tion, min­is­ters out­side Cab­i­net or sit­ting on the cross benches.

Labour is clearly go­ing to be a stronger force un­der Ardern whether in Gov­ern­ment or Op­po­si­tion but it would be un­likely to tar­get New Zealand First in a toxic way be­cause it might still need it as a fu­ture coali­tion part­ner — in­clud­ing dur­ing this term of gov­ern­ment if the al­ter­na­tive col­lapsed.

A cer­tain con­se­quence of in­stalling Labour would be turn­ing Na­tional into a strong Op­po­si­tion and one in­tent on de­stroy­ing New Zealand First.

English would im­me­di­ately an­nounce his re­tire­ment from pol­i­tics, throw­ing the party into a tem­po­rary state of tur­moil as it held its sec­ond lead­er­ship con­test in year.

But the fac­tors that nor­mally de­mor­alise Op­po­si­tion par­ties would be ab­sent.

Its morale would be high even if its moral author­ity is non- ex­is­tent. It had more of a tri­umph than a de­feat at the elec­tion.

Its front bench would know more than the min­is­ters re­plac­ing them.

And any down­turn in the eco­nomic in­di­ca­tors, whether or not they were of do­mes­tic ori­gin, would be an ad­van­tage to Na­tional.

The choice for New Zealand First is a lot harder than in 1996 be­cause it has the ben­e­fit of hind­sight. Its MPs are awake to the pres­sures that could bear down upon a small party in the next three years.

The party has to con­sider its po­lit­i­cal sur­vival as well as the qual­ity of the two deals on of­fer.

Na­tional would be a bet­ter coali­tion part­ner than it was in 1996 but it could be harder for the party to forge a vis­i­ble and pos­i­tive role in a fourth- term Gov­ern­ment.

New Zealand First could have a stronger and more vis­i­ble role in a Labour- led Gov­ern­ment but run a greater risk of be­ing an­ni­hi­lated in 2020.

New Zealand First could be in for a tough week­end.

A cer­tain con­se­quence of in­stalling Labour would be turn­ing Na­tional into a strong Op­po­si­tion and one in­tent on de­stroy­ing New Zealand First.

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