Pundit can reveal an exclusive report from inside Winston's head... We see what he's actually thinking

... And now we cross live, to the internal monologue playing out in Winston Peter's brain...

On the one hand, go with the biggest party and the two-party coalition provide strong, stable government. It's simplest to negotiate and manage because you're dealing with two agendas, not three.

On the other hand, it means aligning with a fourth term government which, Bill English aside, looked to have run out of steam and ideas in the past year or two. Odds on, we're talking a one-term gig here, so how stable is that really?

So it may be better go get in on the ground floor of a new Labour-led government with a popular new leader. Ride the wave. Odds on, after the specials we're talking about a 63 seat majority, which is good enough, and there's a shot at two or three terms in  government.

On the other hand, after four terms National got over 46 percent, which is more than it won in 2008 when John Key was fresh and exciting. As English said on election night, that's 10 percent ahead of Labour and says something about the will of the people after all these years. 46! It's unprecedented, even if it drops to around 44.5 percent after the specials. That's still a stronger 65 seat majority.

Yet New Zealand First campaigned on change and called on Bill English to resign just a few months ago, about the same time I accused National of leaking my superannuation details and said "They broke the law and they're not going to get away with it". Seats held by parties in Opposition last term, when I liked to be known as the leader of the Opposition, now out-number the remnants of that last government. So change then.

On the other hand, do I want to be the one creating a constitutional first, handing victory to the party which came second. I'm an old-fashioned constitutionalist. Sure, it's MMP and there's nothing wrong with that, but think of the backlash. Some commentators don't understand it, so how can I expect voters to? Would I be punished in 2020?

Or would I be the hero? It looks like there might be something about this Jacinda Ardern and maybe being the one who got her into power could be useful leverage both with her party and voters. If we actually built the houses, funded health and education properly, got more police on the street, changed the Reserve Bank Act, moved Auckland's port, build rail and - holy of holies - cut immigration, wouldn't people love that?

But would they love me or her? Would New Zealand First get any credit for that or would the Ardern Effect me she got the kudos and we just withered away in her shade? Look at what happens to minor parties. How do I compete with stardust?

So maybe I'd be better with National. If I could get them to cut immigration, build houses and move the port and add some rail, people would know New Zealand First was responsible for that, not them. A tired, old government would be rejuvenated by my ideas and I'd still be able to pull away from them later on.

On the other hand, National and New Zealand First are competing for the same rural and regional vote. I was starting to get in there, before National used taxes and water policy to drive fear into rural communities and regional voters back to them. If we're in government together, it would be a a farmer fantasy and a super gold time to be old... but they'd probably all reward National. The smaller parties never get the credit.

So maybe I'd be better with Labour. I could be the farmer's hero that helped fund health and education, brough rail and police back to the regions, but also stopped the water tax. Sure, tax the bottlers, but I can save the farmers from the worst excesses of those lefties. That would have sounded better if Labour had got a few percent more, but I might still be able to swing it.

On the other hand, would the farmers ever forgive me for giving power to the wicked witch of Mt Albert? That's the way some of the farming press portrayed her, so I should listen to that. Much of my base is out in those regions and they don't want to be hectored by some young slip of a girl DJ from the city.

On the other hand, Northland. Winning that seat was one of my great achievements, and they took it back off me. I've opened the offices and built a base up there; as I've said this is my turangawaewae. I want it back, New Zealand First needs a seat and I'm not going win it back by going into coalition with they very people who now have it. I need to show what I can win for the region that National wouldn't do. I should go with Labour on the condition they give me the port, the rail and the credit.

But hang on, the Greens. How can I build up a rural base going into a coalition with the very party my voters hate the most. Even more than David Seymour, some of them. They think Greens are socialist, farmer-hating, wowsers. I've said as much and Shane Jones called them "mollyhawks". Can I force them into a confidence and supply position with no place in cabinet with 1.66 percent more than them (probably less after specials)? Sure I can, Labour will do what I want. But will my core supporters understand? Do I want a third wheel?

Maybe I'm better to get National to roll over and go just with them. In 1996 Jim Bolger went where Helen Clark wouldn't and let me be Treasurer. National is ruthless when it comes to getting what it wants, and English wants a term on his terms. He won't be rolled by some woman who doesn't want to run the country over a whiskey bottle.

On the other hand, he's motivated by the desire for a fifth term. Did you hear him on election night, talking about protecting the environment and the most vulnerable, like some sort of Labour Party? Won't some of the conservative wins I'll need be exactly the policies he will want to shun to stay competitive with Ardern? Will he be a proper social conservative like me or will be be trying to re-invent his party?

So maybe I'm better with Labour. I can probably get more out of them, now and over three years. They're inexperienced, naive, still not entirely organised. I'd back myself to out-manoeuvre them, whereas English and Joyce are nothing if not experienced. And overall my policies are much more aligned with Labour's.

Then again, she's got this vision of a new generation that really isn't my sort of thing. Did I mention she's a DJ? She reckons climate change is her generations nuclear-free moment. She'll want to act on that. Do I want to be part of that or keep dropping sceptical hints? Do I want to be part of a government leading on abortion and such stuff.

Remember where I came from? I'm National at heart. I'm about recreating 1960s New Zealand. I like Gerry and his sort, blokes together.

On the other hand, New Zealand First is an essentially interventionist party, and so more like Labour. Jones comes from there and Tracey Martin much prefers them. That top bloke David Parker who wants to change the Reserve Bank Act like me (I've been waiting to do that for so, so long) and understands trade like me is there. My good mate Kelvin Davis is there and he's happy for me to be Deputy Prime Minister. I'm liking that Labour lot.

On the other hand, it'd be sweet to take the Deputy Prime Ministership off that Paula Bennett. And send Joyce packing. He tried to crush me in Northland and he did crush my vote in the regions this time. That could be a condition of my support.

But English. Back in 1992 he ignored our coalition agreement when he was Minister of Health and just kept reforming, he drove Neil Kirton out and I damned him as a boy out of Treasury. Do leopards change their spots? He, Joyce and Key stiffed me in 2008 and 2011 and almost killed New Zealand First. And now he wants my seats? 

On the other hand, that's personal. I've got to think about what's best for the country. And for the policies I want. And for the next election. And my legacy. And the longevity of New Zealand First. And what my board and members want. And what sort of mandate does this vote actually gives me. Is it a vote for the status quo or for change?

I guess that's what I've got to decide. Why the hell did I want this again? Whichever way I go, I'm going to burn off quite a bit of support and we'll be struggling to hold onto seven percent in 2020.

What on earth do I do?

Comments (13)

by MJ on September 27, 2017

The main two people talking about the 'moral mandate' of being the largest party, not the largest movement, would be, it seems, Duncan Garner and Guyon Espiner, the original Paddy Gowers. 

Guyon fed a question to Ardern, who reply that perhaps there was an expectation, but on the other hand, and then has been treating that ho-hum response like it was commandment I of the book of Ardern and throwing it back at Phil Twyford, for example as what his leader believed. Garner was talking up the largest party thing all election night.

National has binned their support- Maori party, Peter Dunne, ACT, Conservative- and their dodgy overhang deal in Epsom no longer seems to matter or be talked about. 

The left and right blocs are going to be like they have been for a while- quite close. In fact, even more reason for the left not to feel so worried about the idea of a 'moral majority', aside from the overhang ACTs, what seemed to spike their momentum was a blanket campaign of lies. 

The difference between parity or better for the left might have been the implication that they would tax everything and didn't know their sums. So not much concern for morality at that point. Let alone the constitutional convention of not misrepresenting what your party or other parties have said in order to get elected. 

That and the domination of the last week of the campaign by a group whose concerns have dominated a large chunk of government: dairy farmers. 

We still have large numbers of people doing really badly in National's NZ, but Fonterra could pay one guy $8 million plus this week. On the basis his salary hadn't changed, but he'd received bonuses. 

Well, about time for the rest of NZ to receive some bonuses! And not just those with Auckland property. If it takes some work from NZ First, the Greens and Labour to get it done, I'm sure the left won't be too fussed, compared to waiting for more and more sagas of neglect and greed like the oil pipeline that hardly raise ire. 


by Dennis Frank on September 28, 2017
Dennis Frank

An impressively comprehensive compilation of Winston's likely considerations, Tim, framed nicely satirical yet accurate.

I believe his primary motivation now is creating a satisfactory legacy.  My hunch is that he'll choose a conservative interventionist economy over a conservative neoliberal economy, so the outcome will hinge on the extent National is able to switch back to Nationalism.  Obviously the spectre of brand authenticity will utterly spook the neoliberals, given that they've been successful in faking it for so long.  Since they've got the numbers still we oughtn't expect that switch - unless they decide to gobble the lure of the fourth term when he dangles it.

That lure will be a package of bottom lines, and the news this morning that he has withdrawn the Maori seat referendum shows that he intends to be sensible.  The prospect of Nat/Labs agreeing to reduce immigration to ten thousand per annum is the one I'm watching (think the Greens already agreed around that).  The growth addicts will freak when their opiate is withdrawn:  expect them to squeal like babies when the bottle is removed.

by Rich on September 28, 2017

I reckon it'll come down to which party is willing to fund the Sir Winston Peters Memorial Motorway. 4 lanes to Cape Reinga.

by Charlie on September 28, 2017

You didn't mention the knighthood plus the sweet diplomatic posting he'll get with National once he retires in three years.  ;-)


by Quentin on September 28, 2017

Good fun Tim... Hey what about the bit where WP muses on another fear, that of a coalition of two big sharks who, together, wouldn't need any of the minnows? Seriously - on balance there might be less real policy difference and less love lost between Labour & National, than between any other combination. And they would have a very solid majority. After the fifth whisky I am sure that one bounces around WP's synapses


by Katharine Moody on September 29, 2017
Katharine Moody

Tim, you missed WP as Prime Minister. Ardern and Shaw as co-Deputy PMs and first time Ministers in the portfolios of their choosing - with all the other Ministerial portfolios distributed on a proportional basis and Mallard as Speaker.  Now, that's MMP as it should be.

by Tim Watkin on September 30, 2017
Tim Watkin

MJ, I agree that there's nothing moral about any mandate in this result. The people using it (who don't include Guyon) I think have chosen the wrong word. I think they are searching for a way to say that National constitutionally has no right per se to form the government, but that such a high result at this stage in the cycle is impressive and the numbers all together does not shout a mandate for change. Sure, a case can be made, but it's not overwhelming.

I'm not sure where you get the idea that the left and right blocs have been close for a while. Look at our left-right gap in our poll of polls and you'll see that's incorrect.  

by Tim Watkin on September 30, 2017
Tim Watkin

Dennis, I think you make some good points there. Labour's better placed to embrace economic nationalism, but we'll see.

Charlie, who says he's going to retire?

Quentin, I can't envision a National-Labour coalition outside of war, major natural disaster or the rise of a truly insidious party in which the party which is perceived to be the junior partner is not destroyed. It won't happen.

Katharine, why on earth should a party with no seat and just 7.5 percent of the popular vote get to be Prime Minister? That is most definitely not MMP as it misses the importance of that final word - proportional. At 20% Peters as PM might have been a thing. Now, it would be a travesty.

by Katharine Moody on September 30, 2017
Katharine Moody

You could think of the entire election through a sporting lens, Tim. After a sporting contest the MVP is chosen based on technical skill and impact on display during the game, nothing to do with being on the winning side, and most certainly it would never be awarded to a player that got pinged with a red card.

by MJ on September 30, 2017

Tim, sorry- my apologies about Guyon. I didn't hear him using the word- but pushing the concept in two interviews. It would be very easy to push the other concept too- that whoever can control and command votes parliament gets to form the government.

A week is a long time in politics- I guess it feels a long, loooong time since Andrew little was leading the Labour Party! I guess I meant that the pre-election polls were actually fairly accurate. 

It is a strong result for National, but by the same token they have done so by losing all their support parties. It is true that the government (as it was prior to the election) has no majority- it has lost that and that the opposition (as it was prior to the election) has a majority. 

It is also true that after the special votes it is anticipated that the seat count may be quite close between the stated pre-election blocs: Lab/Greens on 55 National 57.

As you said in your article Peter's claim to the centre ground is very well founded having governed with both major parties and what he and his party decidies is fairly impossible to predict, though doubtless some will claim to have done it once the governing arrangment emerges!

by Tim Watkin on October 01, 2017
Tim Watkin

MJ, I know Guyon was surprised as many of us where when Ardern said she had an "expectation" that the largest party would form the government. In truth that's what's always happened in NZ and I think it's fair most NZers would 'expect' that. Of course it doesn't mean it's right.

We all know it's irrelevant if the smaller parties can command a majority, but politicians also work on what they think people accept and what mandate they think they've got, so it's important to understand their thoughts on all this. It's going to potentially be tricky to get a second party across the line into government, but this could be the time, who knows?


by MJ on October 02, 2017

Tim, thanks for the dialogue. I'll have to listen again! I thought she had said that there was an expectation, not so much that she had an expectation (thinking-particularly if it's me, perhaps or based on that it has always happened). Though it's much more likely that two of our most senior journalists have already checked much more than carefully than a casual listener and internet commenter!!

I think Kiwis are mostly MMP savvy. They handled the referendums, they handled tactical voting and vote splitting, they've handled coalitions and minority goverments and even the mockery of Epsom and they dealt savagely with waka-jumping by list MPs.

I think particularly as Labour and the Greens presented themselves as a combined force with an MOU before the election I don't see it being a problem for many. That is clearly one movement attempting to enter government together.

It becomes murkier where some one like Peters hasn't declared allegiances or intentions before the election.

I do see some disliking it- but I was also told some people disliked MMP because they thought proportional representation had made things easier for fascism in Europe. So far in NZ that hasn't been a realised worry, and the US federal system is now showing it is far from perfect too in that regard.

I do also see it being a line of attack and I feel that that line is being tested now (and a bit prior to the election too) in case it is needed. Declaring or implying a government is illegitimate for that reason is awfully close to disloyal opposition though, I would have thought. It attacks the whole agreed apon system after the result, not any of the politicians or policies.

If it comes to it, it would need carefully 'selling', but NZF-Greens-Labour is equally as legitimate as the  NZF-National on these results. 

As to who knows? Peters surely has decided and is filling in the details? Ahh, suspense. 

Anyway, thanks for the continued analysis and coverage.

by Tim Watkin on October 04, 2017
Tim Watkin

MJ, the point of the MoU was exactly to make this situation palatable to voters and provide a kind of 'no surprises' policy. So I agree many will be fine with it. But a first is still a first and will take some getting used to for some... although this period of waiting where people are clear that it could go either way probably helps if it does go that way.



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