All eyes on Winston
‘We hold the main cards’, Peters tells the party faithful. By Tony Wall.
Weaker, yet more powerful. Thanks to the quirks of MMP, NZ First finds itself with fewer MPs, yet right at the centre of talks to form a new Government.
Providing he doesn’t go fishing – as he famously did in 1996 after results came in – Winston Peters will be on the phone today to his caucus colleagues to talk tactics after National comfortably won the party vote.
It wasn’t the greatest night for the wily old campaigner – losing his Northland seat to National’s Matt King by about 1000 votes.
That must have been a blow to his pride but he could console himself with a solid showing in the party vote – NZ First winning just over 7 per cent for nine seats, down from 2014’s 8.66 per cent and 11 seats, but putting the party ahead of the Greens.
It means that Peters will be part of Government for a third time – and just as well, as he said during the campaign ‘‘it’s now or never’’ as far as him leading the party back into power was concerned.
While National is in the box seat to form a Government, a LabourGreens-NZ First coalition is another possibility. Bryce Edwards of Otago University’s politics department said he thought Peters would refer to go with Labour because he’d have more influence than he would with National.
Peters told the crowd gathered at Russell’s Duke of Marlborough pub that while his party didn’t hold all the cards, ‘‘we hold the main cards’’ and the caucus would spend the next few days discussing who to go with.
Top of Peters’ wish-list in negotiations is likely to be a Northland rail link to Marsden Point, a cut to immigration numbers and a state assets buy-back programme.
Edwards said the dominance of the two major parties had created a paradox this election.
‘‘It’s the contradiction of this campaign ... [NZ First] are weak on the one hand ... yet Peters is going to be the most powerful politician since he was in 1996, it’s quite bizarre.’’
NZ First was as high as 13 per cent in the polls in July, when ‘‘Jacindamania’’ took the wind out of its sails.
Edwards said Peters’ superannuation payback scandal ‘‘must have hurt them’’.
One thing was the lack Jones. that surprised him of impact by Shane
‘‘I thought they were going to be this dynamic duo campaigning together but Shane Jones was incredibly silent and unimpressive.
‘‘There’s been talk of a fallout between them ... it’s certainly plausible. Jones has not looked like a true believer.’’
Jones is having a champagne breakfast in Whangarei today but he doesn’t have a lot to celebrate – running second to National’s Shane Reti.
Jones said it was ‘‘poppycock’’ that there was any falling out between him and Peters. The agreed strategy had been that he concentrate on Whangarei and the north while Peters covered the country.
The most important issue for him was moving the Ports of Auckland to Northport at Marsden Point.
‘‘I campaigned so strongly on that it’s a matter of personal credibility.’’
He also wanted to see the restoration of the forestry and fishing industries in the north.
Jones said a lot of rural voters who might have been considering NZ First ended up going with National.
‘‘What’s driven it? The air raid siren’s gone off, you’ve had the Labour Party dropping agricultural stink bombs up and down the country and those voters have been summonsed back to home base, which for National party.
‘‘They’re very of voters.’’
He said while many National voters claimed they were jumping ship to NZ First, ‘‘I don’t think they were telling the truth about that. It was almost as if they were a bit nervous about it. I chose not to count those chickens.’’
NZ First MP Ron Mark said the party would push its core policies – immigration, economic sovereignty, sale of state assets, selling land to foreigners - in negotiations.
‘‘Those questions will always be fundamental and our board always has a say – it’s actually not just about Winston.’’ many tribal was those the sorts
The remarkable political career of Winston Peters enters another chapter.