The Press

Did the alternativ­e train wreck just crash and burn?

- Duncan Garner Canon Media Awards 2017: Opinion writer of the year

As the Lions left the country and the America’s Cup euphoria subsided, a groaning political train wreck emerged from the station.

So desperate to position themselves in charge of the lead wagon, Labour leader Andrew Little, NZ First supremo Winston Peters and Greens chief welfare fraudster Metiria Turei all jostled with each other to be first on board.

They were yelling and screaming, poking and pointing in the process. Only Turei managed to get on board for free.

It was brutal, unbecoming – and potentiall­y a mass turnoff to many voters who looked on from the cattle class.

The secret-taping scandal involving National’s Todd Barclay seems like an irrelevant, distant memory compared to the collective brain explosions of those in Opposition who want to run the country in less than 70 days.

If this was your stable, centreLeft alternativ­e government on show over the past week then it failed miserably to convince anyone but the truly card-carrying deluded.

What did we have? More aggro and abuse than Winston Peters has bottom lines.

The Greens told Peters he was a racist. Little told Peters he was a blowhard.

Peters reminded Little he might be unemployed on election night given how poorly his party is polling.

A Green MP, Barry Coates, said if the Greens are shunted to one side by Peters in any coalition talks then they’ll force a new election. Voters will love that!

Then, to cap it off, Little reminded the Greens they may not actually make it in to Cabinet if Peters throws his weight around.

Oh, and the astonishin­gly risky (but brave) admission by Turei that she lied to get her full benefit as a solo mum 24 years ago. Generously, she says she’ll pay it back. Of course she should.

By week’s end Turei was getting some support from those on welfare or who used to be. She’ll be hoping her risky move turns into votes. That’s why she did it, right?

So, yeah, the alternativ­e government resembled a pile of burning wagons, the smoke hasn’t stopped, and surely voters are leaving the back carriages utterly bewildered at those who are meant to be in charge of the controls.

There’s a simple reason for this power play. Labour is weak, uninspirin­g and uncharisma­tic. That means the party’s in trouble.

And Winston Peters isn’t. He has one aim – get as many votes from other parties as he can. He doesn’t care from whom, he senses the momentum is shifting his way. And it is.

He’s got nothing to lose. If you were Peters would you rely on Little and Labour to get you into government in nine weeks? Of course not.

Peters sees himself as the leader of the Opposition. He has no faith in Little. He’s decided to go for broke in the dance of the desperates.

And Peters, probably on his last shot, wants to get into a position on election night where, maybe, just maybe, he could job-share the role of prime minister.

The more votes he gets, the more leverage he has. And the two old crusty parties will do anything to stay or get into power. There’s no second place in coalition negotiatio­ns.

Hence why Peters is barking at every car, and pulling out all his old trusty policies and tricks that he’s failed to get through over the last, well, just the last 40 years.

Peters has eight bottom lines I’ve counted: Maori seats gone, a smaller Parliament, a smacking referendum, the pension age to stay at 65, enter Pike River, rebuild the Christ Church Cathedral, scrap the Reserve Bank Act and build new rail links in Northland.

The list goes on – so many bottom lines that even Winston couldn’t remember when I put it to him this week. Of course, bottom lines are meaningles­s and made to be broken.

But I sense something different in Peters this time. He is seriously fired up. Peters has one last shot at this game – he is now 72, and in one survey he’s polling 14 per cent and rising. Labour is battling on 26. He’s the colour and the showman in a game dominated by boring drongos.

He smells Labour blood and it’s clear he’s now aiming to be the biggest party behind National on election night. Why else would he dedicate a night this week to the Manawatu Gorge issue - Peters has woken from hibernatio­n and someone has turbo-charged him.

Labour and National would dearly love to accidental­ly push Peters under a moving train. But he’s too smart for that. They are truly hating sharing the stage with him this time.

He’s dominating headlines, leading the debate, he stands out from the crowd. Peters is more than nuisance value this time, he’s ready to negotiate for the biggest prize of all. The top job.

Whether that happens is up to you, the voters. If you give him a stunning set of cards on election night he’ll use them. If you don’t, he goes back to being a bit player behind the two major parties he detests so much.

This is Peters’ final crusade – and you sense this time he’s throwing everything at his likely final attempt to get the two letters that have evaded him for four decades: PM.

Winston Peters is the colour and the showman in a game dominated by boring drongos.

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