New Zealand First, we know, could go either way. And this weekend we learnt a little more about what Peters and his crew will be considering if they end up as the pivot party

Call it their Robert Frost moment: Winston Peters and his New Zealand First colleagues may well face a choice after this year's election, when they have to choose from two roads diverging in a yellow wood - one to the left and one to the right.

While the polls are all telling quite different stories at the moment, our poll of polls still has New Zealand First with every chance of holding the balance of power on September 21. Twice before - in 1996 and 2005 - the party has been in that pivotal position, but arguably this year could be its most trying decision yet.

It's quite clear where the road most travelled leads - to another National-led government. Winston Peters' track record is very clear and it's a well-worn path. His instinct has always been to support the party with the most votes. Indeed, he's created a "constitutional convention" that he has to at least speak to the largest party first, even at the first MMP election when there was no precedent to base a convention on! (Geddis, Knight and Edgeler may have views on just how much of a convention it is, but it just seems to be Peters saying what he's thinks is proper).

However this past weekend on The Nation he put some flesh on the bones of that convention - he said it would only mean a phone call and he'd prefer to be talking to both main parties at the same time.

"Well ideally you’d start with one and you’d ensure that the other one is not left out. Because frankly… if you cannot get reconciliation over here then you need to have some chance of getting reconciliation over there. As distasteful as it is to you, and others, the public is demanding a stable Government, and that is the number one responsibility of anybody in politics."

New Zealand First has also shown a dislike for five-headed monsters; that is he prefers fewer coalition partners. However he may not have as much choice this time, as Key has clearly laid out his preference to keep ACT, United Future and the Maori Party in his tent (more partners means power is divided). At the same time, Labour will most likely need at least the Greens to make a government work.

So here's the Peters principle as it stands: Biggest party, fewest partners.

Both times, by following that rule, New Zealand First has supported a third term government. In both cases he has failed to survive the term as a minister. You'd think that there would be a lesson in that.

And this is Peters' conundrum. Does he again lean on a tiring government? Or does he take the road less travelled this time and tie his horse to a fresh new government? As the poem goes, that will make "all the difference" to New Zealand.

Note that he doesn't have to enter a formal coalition to exercise his power. Even if he goes to the cross-benches, whoever he supports (or refuses to vote against) on confidence and supply will have relied on his votes to win office.

There are any numbers of clues to consider. Take Jim Bolger, who told The Nation that Peters' family is full of Nats and his instinct is in that direction. It's undoubtedly easy to see Peters as a Nat at heart. You could listen to Tuariki Delamere too, who says "the Green factor" on the left is likely to scare Peters off. And anyway, who wants to play third wheel?

National also gives him policy certainty over the age of elegibility for superannuation. New Zealand First will never let the age go up from 65, and Key has threatened to resign before doing that. So on that core issue the two are sympatico. What's more, people who know them both say that for all their seeming hatred, they would probably work well together - both pragmatists with astute antennas for public opinion.

On the other hand, a left-bloc coalition would give him a suite of policy gains (as opposed to keeping super as it is). He could certainly achieve his long-dreamed of ambition of Reserve Bank reform. There would be restrictions on land sales to foreigners, a focus on export growth - those are tangible policy wins that he has campaigned on as crucial to a stronger New Zealand. But most of all there's the buying back of state assets. Peters seems to be stressing that as a bottomline, and that's one thing Key and English surely can't credibly offer.

Then there's the question of personalities. Peters has called Key "arrogant", "pretentious" and a liar, while adding that his government is "incompetent". And that was in just one interview. On Cunliffe he has been much quieter, although you wouldn't take his silence as a vote of confidence. Still, voters must wonder how he could use his party's power to make a man he has insulted so roundly Prime Minister. 

Then there are the 'others'. How does he play with United Future? He told Paddy Gower this weekend that he wouldn't want Dunne to be a minister again. Maori Party? Given their policies of "racial separation" he's hardly going to support a government that includes them.

So does that mean a Labour-Green government could find favour? Perhaps, but there's that "Green factor" again. And Peters' National instincts. And super.

Stand and look down these paths too long, you start to get dizzy. It seems that one way or another New Zealand First will have to contradict itself.

Push Peters on these questions and he insists that he must respect the voters and wait until they've had their say. Looking at how the polls have moved this year, you can see his point. If National's lead is, say, over ten percent as it is in today's Herald poll, then it's very hard to make the case for a change of government. 

But given that New Zealand First may well have the power to take New Zealand with it down whichever path its members choose, voters have the right to demand more information. While Peters insists he must hear from voters before he decides anything, surely voters also have the right to hear from him, to know his deliberations and priorities, before they give him the power to choose which path.

New Zealanders have the right to know exactly what they will be voting for, because somewhere ages and ages hence we might just be telling of the path this country took in 2014 and what a difference it made. And knowing how way leads on to way, there's a chance we might never be able to go back.

Comments (28)

by william blake on March 18, 2014
william blake

utu

by Tim Watkin on March 18, 2014
Tim Watkin

Against who-u, William?

by Andrew Geddis on March 18, 2014
Andrew Geddis

(Geddis, Knight and Edgeler may have views on just how much of a convention it is, but it just seems to be Peters saying what he's thinks is proper).

No need to glorify it with fancy terms. It's just him doing what he wants to. But there's no reason that anyone else has to think they have to act this way - for instance, if after the election the Greens held the balance of power, there'd be no "constitutional" expectation that they'd talk first to whichever of Labour or National got the most votes. In fact, there's no "consitutional" expectation that they'll talk to National at all.

For my part, I interpret Peters "I am obligated to talk to the biggest first" line as a very convenient way to avoid answering the question, "who would you prefer to talk to?" (because answering that would risk alienating a significant portion of his voting base).

by Andrew Geddis on March 18, 2014
Andrew Geddis

"As distasteful as it is to you, and others, the public is demanding a stable Government, and that is the number one responsibility of anybody in politics."

This quote makes Matthew Hooten's prediction about Peters' likely intentions - as discussed in this Dimpost thread - seem even more unlikely.

by william blake on March 18, 2014
william blake

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0808/S00432.htm

I suppose it depends upon which cold collation of revenge Winston would favour, requiring Key to drape the baubles around his shoulders or to tweet the latest, to Keys' retirement villa in Hawaii.

by Alex Coleman on March 18, 2014
Alex Coleman

Hi Tim,

 I think you've laid out the various likelihoods as well as as anyone, but I really do think that at this stage, (and indeed right up till after the election), not even Winston knows which way he will go. I think he is being as straight up as he ever gets when he describes how he'll go about it.

It's fun to try and guess, and come up with reasons for why he may do various things, but at the end of the day I think the message the other parties should be pushing, ( a message which has the added benefit of being true), is something like;

'If you have a preference for who will lead the next government, vote for that party instead of Winston. If you don't care who leads the government and your main concern is having Winston in the mix, then vote for him, but be aware that he could go either way depending on what elese happens'.


This message, I think, gives voters the most honest appraisal of what sort of government their vote will help to build.

 Cheers.

by Tim Watkin on March 18, 2014
Tim Watkin

Hooten seems to lay out a few scenarios in that thread Andrew, so not sure which one seems less likely.

The point is that I think Peters is genuine in not knowing what he will do after the election until he sees the polls. He will have all sorts of scenarios in his head, but I distrust anyone who reckons they know 'xcatly what ol' Winnie will do. Bollocks. For a start, Danyl's joined the club of absurd commentary by saying he knows what Winston wants and it's a ministerial post, a salary and dignity. Of those three the third is pretty important, not sure where the other two fit in though.

To say he WON'T go to the cross-benches and WILL go with National and WILL want a ministerial job is presumptuous. That might happen, but no-one can predict it now with any certainty unless they know what the vote will be. The cross-benches is a distinct possibility.

The other wrong assumption is that Winston decides all. Having spoken to him and some former MPs this past week I was fascinated that they all stressed how democratic NZF was.

What I do agree with Danyl on is that there's a fair bit of lazy analysis round, which is why I put the various alternatives in this post. To presume to know the outcome is daft.

by Tim Watkin on March 18, 2014
Tim Watkin

There you go Alex, we were writing much the same point at the same time!

by Tim Watkin on March 18, 2014
Tim Watkin

Thanks Andrew re constitution convention – and good example re the Greens. Ta. The pooint is that it seems respectful to voters but allows him to keep his cards close to his chest... Which is what you said. Doh!

by Andrew Osborn on March 18, 2014
Andrew Osborn

My guess - he won't get his 5% so the point is irrelevant.

(or is this just wishful thinking?)

 

by Alan Johnstone on March 19, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Winston will get his 5% easily enough, esp if the Labour vote is soft.

I don't much care for the man, but I recognise that he is good at what he does and governs in a moderate responsible manner.

The next election is a difficult one for me, I accept the Key administration has done a solid enough job, but think we need a reform of our tax system such as labour is proposing. Keeping the Greens out of office is my number 1 concern.

Perhaps I should vote NZF ?

by Tim Watkin on March 19, 2014
Tim Watkin

Alan, NZF could be the option for you. Although it's not pro-capital gains tax, so that may be obtuse if that's what you're after. Of course you could just vote Labour and trust them to manage whatever you don't like about the Greens. What is it you don't like about the Greens anyway (as they're big on your tax reform)?

by william blake on March 19, 2014
william blake

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11211333

 

http://publicaddress.net/busytown/school-bully/

 

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11222414

 

http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/perspective/9732947/Doughnut-represents-Ceras-failings

 

http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/national-ministers-justify-suspension-democracy-ecan-ch-127867

 

http://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=3647

 

http://www.transparency.org.nz/docs/2013/Hon-Judith-Collins-Minister-of-Justice-Letter-to-TINZ.pdf

 

 These are just some browsings and opinions about the National Governments' policies that assert, less democracy, a favouring of business over community and a an active antipathy toward the vulnerable. There are many more.

 

Winston may enjoy the cold pleasure of leveraging Key into giving a place at a governing table but if it is his dignity at stake, as has been suggested here, he will not find it in this company.

by Alan Johnstone on March 19, 2014
Alan Johnstone

I don't like the Greens for the same reason I don't like the NZCP, they are faith based parties.

I favour pragmatic choices on a case by case basis, the Greens have fixed principles that always lead them to the same outcome such as no mining or new roads, regardless of the evidence in the indivual situation.

Unwavering principles have their place, but it's not in power.

by Matthew Percival on March 19, 2014
Matthew Percival

Whilst the 1996 and 2005 situations have some relevancy I think we need to also consider that this time around it's "3 and out" for Winston. Though he does take on a seemingly immortal presence Winston is human and 2014 will surely be the last election he contests. In the knowledge that his party wont survive with out him he may as well go for broke should he hold the balance of power.

Though I must confess that doesn't really help us come to any conclusions with regards to which side he may have a preference for!

Then again this is Winston. Would it surprise anyone if he announced a shock retirement before September 20?

by william blake on March 19, 2014
william blake

I don't like the Greens for the same reason I don't like the NZCP, they are faith based parties.

I favour pragmatic choices on a case by case basis, the Greens have fixed principles that always lead them to the same outcome such as no mining or new roads, regardless of the evidence in the indivual situation.

Unwavering principles have their place, but it's not in power.”

 

I don't like the Nats for the same reason I don't like the Act Party, they are ideologically based parties.

I favour pragmatic choices on a case by case basis, the Nats have fixed principles that always lead them to the same outcome such as mining or new roads, regardless of the evidence in the indivual situation.

principles have their place.

by Alan Johnstone on March 19, 2014
Alan Johnstone

"I favour pragmatic choices on a case by case basis, the Nats have fixed principles that always lead them to the same outcome such as mining or new roads"

But that's not true, go look at the new gold mine on Gt Barrier island as evidence (hint, there isn't one)

by Paul Rowe on March 19, 2014
Paul Rowe

William and Alan, have you met Pete George?  His commonsense sounds like exactly what you are looking for.

 

 

It seems to me that all this discussion about  Peters is a bit like the reporting on the Malaysian Airways tragedy, there is no concrete information, just commentator after commentator trying to  fill a quota of words or broadcast minutes.

by BeShakey on March 19, 2014
BeShakey

Then there are the 'others'

Worth noting that, while he was pretty dismissive of all the minor parties on National Radio, the only one he explicitly said he wouldn't be in Cabinet with is Act. I can't imagine that Act would prevent the formation of a National government because they didn't get a Cabinet role, but it would make things slightly trickier.

by william blake on March 19, 2014
william blake

Hi Paul, no idea of a pete george can you explain?

 

by Alan Johnstone on March 19, 2014
Alan Johnstone

I think Pete George is the last remaining United Future member.......

by Tim Watkin on March 20, 2014
Tim Watkin

Alan, neither no mining nor no new roads are Greens policy, so you're not fairly representing them. Seems you're working off a perception of them rather than a reality.

Matthew, you make an interesting point. It could well be different this time given Peters' place in his career - but his caucus might have some views on that too.

Paul, yes it's speculation, which is why I think when Danyl and others make definitive statements about Peters' intentions they're doing a disservice. And that's why I'm going as much as I can off Peters' own words.

by Alan Johnstone on March 20, 2014
Alan Johnstone

I think i am fairly representing them Tim, I'm aware of what they say, but judge them on what they do.

If you can highlight one mining project and one new road they've supported in the last five years I'll be happy to retract and apologise to them.

by Tim Watkin on March 20, 2014
Tim Watkin

Interesting point Alan. Couldn't come up with a mining project they've supported per se, but you're being a bit cute with your language. They've said no to new coal mines, but have not opposed many existing mines or opposed other new ones. So they're not actively "supporting" these mines, but have implicitly supported them by not advocating against them as they have with Bathurst, for example. And your original comment was that they always say no to mining. That's just not true.

As for roads, well the Greens policy is to cut funding for roads, but still spend many millions on them. Here for example is their plan for Wellington:

"Right now, the Government is proposing to spend $20 billion on motorways over the next 10 years. For every $1 they spend on public transport, they will spend $5 on new motorways.

We would take a more balanced approach, spending $1 on public transport, walking, and cycling infrastructure for every $1 we spend on roads."

So they'll spend as much on roads as on public transport. That means building/supporting new roads. You can't really mean that to show they're not zealots they have to praise one particular road, so presumably... Retract and apologise?

by Alan Johnstone on March 21, 2014
Alan Johnstone

I've read the link. It shows lots of public transport projects they want to do, many of which seem good ideas, it doesn't show any roads. It appears strange that they'd have such details on what they wish to spend the 50% public transoprt section on, but apparently no idea on where the 50% road budget would go. That's 4bn on roads, but they can't say where they'd spend it.

Again I judge them by their actions, if they're transport policy had a list of projects that included (some, fewer than now, but some) roads, I'd retract and appologise but it doesn't.

In terms of mining, I'll accept they don't oppose existing mines. I'll retract that and I'll clarifiy and say, they don't support any new mining. 

 

 


 

by Chris Webster on March 21, 2014
Chris Webster

Hey Tim. Very nice.

It's quite clear where the road most travelled leads - to another National-led government. Winston Peter's track record is very clear and its a well-worn path'.

But I think Winston & his friends are searching for 'Their Yellow Brick Road' .. only to find that he has what he has been looking for all the time - 'well-worn path'.

As you known in Wizard of Oz he 'yellow brick road' leads to Emerald City in the 'Land of Oz'.  [And no I am not releasing secret details of WP et al intention to migrate across the ditch].

But the Land of Oz' is a metaphor for 'the road that 'leads to life's fantasies', or 'the road that leads to life's answers'.

And those 'life's fantasies' or 'life's answers' are all ours to make: irrespective of when or wherther Winston elects to let the hoi polloi know.  

We have had promises 'made to us in the deep of the night' by previous administrations - only to find out after the fact - that we've had to swallow a few dead rats (Bill English!) Was he talking out loud?  

To paraphrase Mr Frost: the roads are well worn with ruts so deep & they have promises to keep .. when broken may just cause us to weep.    

I want to believe we've grown more mature in our selections. And that those s/elections are now far more calculating - because we have had to make our way back.  Just as most people do not want to know the sex of their unborn child - most people I talk with are totally PO & over yesterday's 'matey-blokey - political tea-party arrangements' & want to go to the box without being influenced by a side-wind.   And that includes me.

by Chris Webster on March 21, 2014
Chris Webster

Hey Tim. Very nice.

It's quite clear where the road most travelled leads - to another National-led government. Winston Peter's track record is very clear and its a well-worn path'.

But I think Winston & his friends are searching for 'Their Yellow Brick Road' .. only to find that he has what he has been looking for all the time - 'well-worn path'.

As you known in Wizard of Oz he 'yellow brick road' leads to Emerald City in the 'Land of Oz'.  [And no I am not releasing secret details of WP et al intention to migrate across the ditch].

But the Land of Oz' is a metaphor for 'the road that 'leads to life's fantasies', or 'the road that leads to life's answers'.

And those 'life's fantasies' or 'life's answers' are all ours to make: irrespective of when or wherther Winston elects to let the hoi polloi know.  

We have had promises 'made to us in the deep of the night' by previous administrations - only to find out after the fact - that we've had to swallow a few dead rats (Bill English!) Was he talking out loud?  

To paraphrase Mr Frost: the roads are well worn with ruts so deep & they have promises to keep .. when broken may just cause us to weep.    

I want to believe we've grown more mature in our selections. And that those s/elections are now far more calculating - because we have had to make our way back.  Just as most people do not want to know the sex of their unborn child - most people I talk with are totally PO & over yesterday's 'matey-blokey - political tea-party arrangements' & want to go to the box without being influenced by a side-wind.   And that includes me.

by Tim Watkin on March 22, 2014
Tim Watkin

alan, it's fair to point out that they don't specify any particular roads, but given as you conceed that they're budgeting four billion for roads in Wellington alone, I don't think your assertion that they have "fixed principles" around no new roads can stand.

And to be pedantic, your qualification on 'no new mining' doesn't stand either. No fracking or new coal mines or deepea drilling certainly, but I don't think (not 100% on this) that they've opposed new drilling in existing areas such as Maui or some of the smaller new mines on land.

Chris I agree most people don't want to see "arrangements" – and Peters can fairly argue he doesn't either. But it's a bit two-faced because he'll just do his deals AFTER the election and in private!

 

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