Winston Peters' announcement that he will enter a coalition with Labour gives the 2017 election its final meaning. But it sounds like it was a very, very close run thing.

So, very late yesterday afternoon (let's be charitable) Winston Peters lifted the box's lid and out wandered a cat with a black head, red body and green tail. Whereupon a number of (small p) pundits fell all over themselves to explain to us why this outcome was always the only one possible and we were silly to think anything different. While the Taxpayer's Union's Jordan Williams, in an oddly now-deleted (but still cached) tweet, promises that the result will cause him to inflict mass horror upon the population at large:

Jordan Williams‏ @JordNZ  Oct 6


I’m calling it - Winston will go with the status quo. If I’m wrong I’ll walk to work in my undies.

8 replies 1 retweet 26 likes

However, as I wrote in my last post here, I do not think the meaning of the 2017 election really is very clear at all. Had Peters announced an intention to go into coalition with National, our narrative would be one of fundamental continuity and an endorsement of the last nine years of "strong and stable" management (albeit with some change in emphasis towards regional NZ).

And it appears the decision on which path to take really was in doubt right up until the last moments. Andrea Vance reports that Peters only made his final choice 15 minutes before leaving his office to tell the nation (and Bill English and Jacinda Ardern) what he was going to do. If true, that really is a remarkable illustration of how close-run things were.

Furthermore, it also indicates some severe disagreement within NZ First over what was the best choice for it. Remember that Peters said this about the decision-making process that NZ First's Board would follow:

"You want a serious consensus. If you haven't got a serious consensus stay there until you get one, but who wants a 50-50 vote."

Mr Peters said he expected the agreement [of the NZ First Board] to be far more than 75 percent.

I may be wrong here, but if things really were still in doubt up until the final 15 minutes then it seems unlikely there was "a serious consensus" within that Board on what to do. Indeed, Peters himself said during the Q&A session after his announcement there was disagreement with the final decision within NZ First's ranks.

Nevertheless, now we have the outcome that we have. A choice has been made. The narrative of "change" has been set - complete with a new PM from a new generation. What can we expect?

First off, I don't buy all the doom-and-gloom prognostications that the "Malawi Mixture" (remember, you read it here first!) is destined to fail. Sure, it'll have challenges and tensions. But both Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson (Labour's real number two) have significant experience in the management of disparate coalitions from their time in Helen Clark's office. They've seen how this can be done successfully.

However, nor should we see this as a new dawn of immediate, radical change. Yes, the Malawi Mixture will be a different Government from a National-NZ First combination. But Ardern was very, very quick to emphasise in her first Q&A session after Peters' announcement that Labour remains committed to running surpluses and to staying within existing fiscal frameworks (or other economicy jargon I don't really understand). And, of course, the Greens have signed up to a similar commitment.

So, there will be change - but change of a responsible, careful, considered sort. Change that won't scare the horses too much ... or, more importantly, the farmers who own those horses.

Which brings me to MMP. Despite grumblings from those whose team didn't get the result they wanted - you all know who I mean - this outcome may well represent the voting system's coming of age. It kills off any theories that the largest party will somehow inevitably get to govern (sorry, Claire!) and reiterates the more fundamental truth; a majority in the House of Representatives (howsoever formed) is all our constitution demands.

Furthermore, the comingling of NZ First and Labour in cabinet with the Greens joining them somewhere along the "governing spectrum" delivers on the original promise of quite antagonistic parties sublimating their differences to govern in some degree of harmony. It also provides internal checks on the possibly worst impulses of each component - take the most extreme policy of each party that most scares the crap out of you, and you can be reasonably sure it won't actually be able to be fulfilled.

Let me finish this ramble with a shout out to two individuals. The first is Bill English, whose concession speech last night helped to redeem his pretty shameful enabling of Stephen Joyce's invisible $11.7 billion fiscal hole lie during the campaign. English could have been bitter. He could have railed against the unfairness (as he probably sees it) of getting over 44% of the vote and still losing his job. But he didn't ... rather, he calmly accepted that this is the way the process can work and wished the incoming Government well (while promising to do his new job in opposing them).

That was mature, gracious and respectful to the country. It deserves praise.

The second shout out is to someone who has slipped from view, but arguably could ultimately be credited with causing the change in government. Back in July, the speech that Metiria Turei gave to the Greens AGM on her experiences as a beneficiary in the 1990s (including an admission she broke the law) was the pebble that started yesterday's avalanche.

It led to a not insignificant number of Labour voters switching support to the Greens. Which then drove Labour's poll ratings down to the low-mid 20's. Which caused Andrew Little to resign as leader. Which put Jacinda Ardern in charge of Labour. After which, the rest is history.

If this list of policy "wins" by the Greens is to be believed, the resultant Malawi Mix has committed to an "overhaul of the welfare system". That was the issue that Turei felt so moved to speak out on. Doing so cost her a political future - but it may ultimately have been what made this into a "change" election.


Comments (12)

by Ian MacKay on October 20, 2017
Ian MacKay

Cooperation between the teams count. Jim Bolger said that he got on well with Winston during the first co-olition. But Jenny Shipley had been undermining Winston and more so once she became PM. The result of course was the collapse of the Shipley Term. 

Jacinda seems to have the much higher cooperative qualities needed to allow the current arrangement to flourish. Long may it be so.

by Anne on October 20, 2017

Winston Peter's preamble to revealing their party of choice leads me to suspect that he had favoured going with Labour. However it does look like there was not a "serious consensus" among the board members and perhaps one or two members of his caucus. That would account for the delayed proceedings and the last minute apparent flurry prior to the announcement. But, in my view, it would have been  inevitable that Winston's choice would win the day. 

by Anne on October 20, 2017

Need an edit on this blog-site. Start should read Winston Peters'...

by Katharine Moody on October 20, 2017
Katharine Moody

'Dead cats' didn't prosper - all credit to Winston/NZ First. I seriously hope this lesson sees the National Party bury dirty/divisive politics once and for all.    

by Charlie on October 21, 2017

The outcome of the election has no meaning - it's just fairly random.

As I understand it, Winston was angling for an extra NZF cabinet position. Bill wouldn't give it but Jacinda did.

Despite Winston's BS about policy, this was ALL about the baubels of office, as is usual for him.

The positive: Maybe we can get the Kermadec sanctuary now there is no Maori Party in the mix.

The negative: Labour will rush to kill off successful charter schools because their union mates want to retain their chokehold on education.

The fun: No way she can live up to a fraction of the pre-election promises. National will abolutely hammer them from the opposition benches. Put the popcorn on!



by Kat on October 21, 2017

Jacinda Ardern is going to be a wonderful PM and there is much to celebrate. However politics is a rough business and she will come under constant attack not just from a very large opposition but also from the oppositions conduits in the media. It has started already and can only ramp up. The attack dogs in the MSM are barking that the result is undemocratic and that our new govt is a coalition of the losers and the result is a coup.

The MSM have to be taken to task and challenged at every occasion when publishing lies and smear under the guise of "opinion" pieces.

by Eszett on October 21, 2017

As I understand it, Winston was angling for an extra NZF cabinet position. Bill wouldn't give it but Jacinda did.


Looks like that is nothing but National's spin. Quite the reverese is true


Whether it was right or not, the fact of a leak from the previously tightly held talks was seen as a clear sign all was not well on the National side - and that someone was trying to spin a narrative that Labour was caving in while National stood firm and principled.

Peters - as well as English and Ardern - has since rubbished the claim. It seems the truth was quite the reverse. National had in fact offered five Cabinet posts and two ministers outside Cabinet compared with Labour's offer of four and three.


by Matt McKillop on October 22, 2017
Matt McKillop

Political Marketing is the academic equivalent of Monorail Salesman.

Also, does anyone know if burning something to the ground counts as "disruptive innovation"?

by Flat Eric on October 22, 2017
Flat Eric

Sorry Charlie, your optimism fell at the first hurdle. Winston cans the Kermadec Sanctuary to pay off his major donors. That's the start of the fun - popcorn indeed!

by john common on October 22, 2017
john common

Isn't crediting the unintended consequences of one individual's actions with defining the character of a general election campaign just a wee bit of a stretch?

by Charlie on October 23, 2017

Flat Eric - yep the start of the fun.

You can imagine the Greens swallowing that dead rat!


by Kat on October 23, 2017

It appears swallowing dead rats is some kind of ritual that those from the political spectrum opposed to the new govt indulge in. David Attenborough would find this phenomenon, albeit mainly confined to political matters, most interesting I am sure.

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