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Clusterf**ck of Chaos.
What to do with Winston?
On the 11th of April 1945 advancing US forces liberated the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald near Weimar in Germany. In the coming days, under the order of General Patton, a thousand nearby residents were forced to march to the camp to see the atrocities that had been committed in their name, so close to their homes.
That same day, 18,000 km away in Whangarei, New Zealand a baby of mixed Māori and Scottish origin was born. His name was Winston Raymond Peters, and he would leave a unique mark on NZ politics.
Winston entered parliament in 1979 as the MP for Hunua, a now disestablished electorate to the south of Auckland. This followed a High Court challenge overturning the result of the 1978 election, which had seen Labour’s Malcolm Douglas, brother of Roger, win by 300 votes.
Since then Winston has been in parliament, other than one term from 1981, when he lost the seat of Hunua to Labour, and one in 2008 after he missed out on parliament following John Key’s decision to rule out working with him.
Plus of course the current term. Winston was unpopular with voters on the right in 2020 after going with Labour in 2017, and with voters on the left for stifling progress by Labour and Greens, as a handbrake to their first three years in government.
Over that time Winston has held the roles of deputy PM, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the role of Treasurer, which was created just for him. Excuse my spluttering, I seem to have coughed up a bauble.
Prior to being kicked out of the National Party he was also the Minister of Māori Affairs for that party. You won’t believe what he learned about the origins of the Māori people in that role!
Roll forward and it looks increasingly likely that Winston will be back in parliament after the election. Once again holding the numbers to determine the next government. Some of us will be experiencing deja vu about now.
The Clusterf**k of Chaos
If you look at the recent polls a three party coalition comprising National, ACT, and New Zealand First appears the most likely winning combination. But what are the prospects of this actually working?
Such an arrangement would put major constraints on National as Winston would be unlikely to support the opening up of the housing market to foreign buyers. Which National needs to pay for the tax cuts they’ve promised. Winston, despite the hardline rhetoric of late, is also unlikely to support the level of austerity favoured by the other two parties.
There is nothing I’ve seen from Luxon that suggests he has the negotiating skills required to bring the other two together, and no, his time at Air NZ doesn’t qualify. Abusing a monopoly position to gouge domestic customers doesn’t make him a successful dealmaker.
Anyone who’s seen David Seymour doubling down on his anti Winston rhetoric over the last week will have reached the conclusion that there is no prospect of the two men co-existing in a cabinet or coalition. Certainly not one that would last three years, or indeed until Christmas.
On top of their long-standing, well documented, dislike for each other. Seymour seems to be really feeling the pressure from Winston’s elevation in the polls.
This is hardly surprising given that much of David’s newly found constituency used to belong to Peters. Grumpy, older, pakeha New Zealanders who don’t mind a bit of good old casual racism. Folks that are angry at most things, and not afraid to say so.
David can see what was looking like a solid right wing government (you can’t say centre-right if it involves ACT, who are anything but centrist), ebbing away along with the prospects of him becoming deputy PM. ACT’s support was down to 8.8% in the Newshub poll last week, and it’s reached the point where the scenario many are discussing is of a National/NZF coalition, with ACT providing confidence and supply.
Now some might imagine Seymour could behave maturely in such an arrangement. For the benefit of his supporters, even if they’re not kicking the poor as hard as they would like to. But if you doubt that Seymour would force another election sooner rather than later, if he doesn’t get his way, then you haven’t been paying attention.
ACT have worked too hard, investors have donated too much, to prop up a minority government of Luxon and Peters, which would, like the 2017 Labour government, not undertake major transformation. If there is one thing Winston’s supporters do not want it’s change. Whereas ACT’s financial backers, if not their supporters, are looking for a revolution to dramatically shift things further in favour of the wealthy.
Workarounds and ineffective weasels.
What other scenarios might there be?
John Key has suggested that Christopher Luxon do a deal with Winston. “What happens if Winston becomes the speaker? In which case they’re technically not in government, are they?”, asked Key.
To which I’d say, “yeah right, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.”
Readers can have ten points if they recognise the above quote. Not you Gen X’ers, you only get one.
The idea that Winston has gone to all this effort to get back into parliament, at the age of 78, only to become Speaker and not push for a cabinet role, is not in touch with reality. Key’s suggestion was so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a rock with a tail on it.
The reference above is worth one point, two if you’re from one of those generations that came after Gen X.
Apart from anything else, would you really want Winston as speaker if you’re in coalition with David Seymour? I can see it now…
Marama Davidson to the Deputy Prime Minister: “David Seymour why don’t you care about most New Zealanders? Why are you such a self centred asshole?”
Deputy PM, David Seymour: “Mr speaker, objection…”
Speaker of the House, Winston Peters: “Overruled, the member is a self centred asshole and everybody knows it. Now answer the question clown.”
No, it would be bad enough having Winston and Seymour in some sort of agreement with a neutral speaker. One who would be constantly having to remind them that they were on the same side!
Let’s be realistic, Winston is going to want a bit more than that. Not to mention his deputy Shane Jones who is probably the only person in the country more focussed on the baubles of power than Winston.
What to do with Winston?
Luxon should have ruled Winston out months ago if he wanted to avoid these scenarios. But he is seemingly so focused on one goal, and one goal only, that he didn’t. That goal, and the entire reason he seems to be there, is to make one Christopher Luxon Prime Minister.
Where Nicola Willis seems to be motivated by a genuine disregard for the poor and to punish them until they do better, Luxon’s sole motivation seems to be his own ego. A tick in the box to say he was the Prime Minister and then a nice knighthood to round things off.
The problem is that neither Luxon, nor Willis, and especially David Seymour, seem to know what to do with Winston.
You would have thought National might have learned after the way they treated Winston in 2017. When he ended up taking some of them to court, and, unsurprisingly, not going into coalition with them.
More than the baubles of power, Winston demands and expects respect. If you want to win Koro over you stroke his ego and lavish praise. Some might recall Jacinda Ardern going to great efforts to show Winston respect in the early part of their coalition.
But then Jacinda knew Winston. Once again with Luxon’s midweek claim that he doesn’t know Winston we see the downside to choosing a leader who has spent his career selling deodorant in North America, or in boardrooms. One who seems to have surprisingly little understanding of New Zealand.
National could rule as a minority government, either alone, or with one of the other two parties in a coalition. Potentially needing agreement from both NZF and ACT for each piece of legislation.
They might, from time to time, find commonality with other parties. For example passing moderate legislation, opposed by ACT, with the support of NZF and Labour. But I doubt the parties of the left will be doing Luxon too many favours.
Throughout the term Luxon would run the risk of Seymour, or Peters, bringing his government down if he pissed either of them off too much. Neither of whom would then accept responsibility for the nation going back to the polls.
No means yes?
Or how about this one? Winston forgets all about his pre-election promise not to do a deal with Labour and enters discussions with them, and the parties of the left. From memory the only people to show Winston any sort of respect this campaign were Marama Davidson and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer during the “minor” parties debate.
I don’t think Hipkins, or Shaw, or Peters would seriously go there. But it would be a useful mechanism for Winston to use during negotiations.
If you’re at a house auction, and you know you’re the only bidder, you don’t tend to keep increasing your bids. The illusion of a second bidder is a tactic that has been used by the Real Estate industry to trick people into paying more than they need to. With Luxon a very motivated purchaser, he might be quite willing to up the ante.
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So what next?
I guess the big question is how voters will react over the next couple of weeks as the likely scenarios become clearer in the polls. Not to mention after observing the dysfunction being displayed between the three potential ruling parties of Aotearoa.
More centrist voters might shift their votes to Winston out of concern over what ACT having power would do to this country. Although I’m not sure if that will be as much of a consideration as it might’ve been. With the three parties of the right seemingly in lockstep trying to outmaneuver each other to the right, and recent austerity announcements from National definitely veering into ACT territory.
Back in 2017 I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe the country was there again, with Winston determining the composition of the government. Yet here we go again!
People have written Peters off time and again, and he has proved them all wrong. It looks like he’ll get one more shot at the big game, but surely at 78 this really is the last hurrah.
I don’t think Winston plans on going out without having a bit more fun yet, and if New Zealand First ends up being the handbrake to ACT’s ambitions, then I look forward to seeing the look on Seymour’s face. I just can’t believe we’re doing it again!
This song, which was released a week ago, means a lot to a bunch of folks who were born after Winston Peters became an MP.