MIL Analysis+Reportage – EveningReport.NZ
Analysis byBryce Edwards: Get ready for Prime Minister Winston Peters
Winston Peters made a mixture of colourful, grandiose, and rather ridiculous statements in the weekend that will infuriate many, and delight others. Much of it was in riddles, but all made with his customary swagger. These ranged from stating complete confidence in New Zealand First’s ultimate victory at the coming election through to repeated scathing references to the “shiny bums” of Wellington and “fake news” in the media.
“Explosive” policies announced
This policy has the potential to make a major impact on the election campaign, and on New Zealand First’s popularity – especially if it acts as some sort of lightning rod for popular discontent about political elites and race relations. The referendum could even morph into New Zealand’s own version of Brexit or Trump.
A highly confident Winston Peters
Clearly Winston Peters is currently in a highly confident mood. So, it’s a question of just how confident he might be after the election if New Zealand First gets a strong result. If he his party is the third party, perhaps not too far behind Labour, would that embolden him to chase a bigger prize?
Could Winston Peters be seeking out the role of Prime Minister?
Here’s Young’s main point: “The chances of Peters becoming Prime Minister this election are not high. But they are not impossible, despite Bill English and Andrew Little having ruled it out, as they must. There are several ways it could happen. New Zealand First could go into coalition with National, conditional on Peters leading the Government for half of the term. No other support would be required, but after three terms leading the Government, National is likely to be the least receptive to being led by Peters. Any deal involving Peters leading the Government is more likely to be with Labour, which has been in Opposition for three terms, and the Greens who have been outside Government for six terms terms. New Zealand First could go into coalition with Labour, conditional on Peters leading the Government for half a term, say the first half, which would give Labour the benefit of incumbency at the 2020 election and half the term to decide who its PM would be.”
Although the idea of a minor party leader becoming PM might seem ridiculous, “The idea that the country could be led by head of the smaller party in a coalition is not without precedent. Peters himself has cited the early 1930s, when George Forbes of the United Party was Prime Minister in a coalition with the Reform Party, led by Gordon Coates.”
But would Peters really have the nerve to chase the top job? Young details how New Zealand First made some attempt to win this role when it last negotiated with both Labour and National – back in 1996.
According to Gower, “Winston Peters has revealed his strategy to become Prime Minister – and it involves collapsing Labour’s vote and destroying Andrew Little. Peters dropped a big hint during his interview with me on The Nation on Saturday, and for the first time I saw exactly what his audacious but workable plan to get the top job is. The moment came when Peters questioned whether Labour leader Andrew Little would make it back on Labour’s list if it polls poorly.”
Peters has a strategy, Gower says, of deliberately targeting Labour’s vote: “Peters’ tour of the regions was all about attacking National – which is all about taking potential Labour voters. When he starts attacking Labour and the Greens – which he will – that’s when he will start trying to take National’s vote. But his priority right now is Labour.” And Gower even mentions a “political earthquake” scenario: “where he manages to overtake Labour (eg. NZ First 21 percent, Labour 20 percent)”.
Theories about Peters as PM
Hooton argued that, for Peters, this role would be seen as the pinnacle of his career: “To date, Mr Peters has served as deputy and acting prime minister, treasurer and foreign minister. There is only one post that remains and one last chance to get it. National and Labour/Green strategists should not be naïve, no matter what is said between now and the start of post-election negotiations: a substantial amount of time in the prime minister’s office will be Mr Peters’ price for their party controlling the cabinet.”
Hooton believes that either Labour or National will cave in the demand: “Whichever side gives him at least some time as prime minister will become government, with the alternative an utterly unstable three years of Mr Peters sitting on the cross-benches, deciding legislation vote by vote. One side or the other will blink.”
Watkins admitted it might appear farfetched: “It might seem outlandish to give the keys to the ninth floor of the Beehive to a minor coalition partner. So too, seemingly, would be installing as prime minister someone who has nothing like the popular support of the major Opposition leader.”
But she also pondered what would happen if New Zealand First really did breakthrough with a high vote: “Under that scenario, NZ First would almost be a first among equals. And Peters would be the only one among the other leaders with Cabinet experience. He was even deputy prime minister once.”
Furthermore: “As preferred prime minister, Mr Peters is second only to Bill English and ahead of the leading Labour candidate, Jacinda Ardern, with Mr Little bringing up the rear. Yet Mr Peters hasn’t even got started yet. His attacks on immigration have so far been muted compared with what is to come and he is now able to speak with a new authority on the subject, being proven to have had a point for at least 20 years and now being tacitly endorsed by every major party including even the Greens.”
And Gower has painted this picture of post-election coalition negotiations in which Little isn’t in Parliament: “With Labour having no leader, Winston Peters puts forward a combination that with him as Prime Minister. There is a joint policy agenda with concessions for all sides. Labour MPs would be in senior roles like Finance, and Green MPs would also get top jobs. Labour and the Greens can either take that deal – or Winston Peters goes into Government with National and they are out of power for three more years. Labour and the Greens accept the Peters plan – and Winston Peters is Prime Minister of New Zealand.”
But others are far from convinced that such a scenario could even occur. Blogger Danyl Mclauchlan wrote about the idea back in 2015, protesting that “there’s no way you’d get the whole of the Labour caucus to back this. And I’m pretty confident the same is true of National.”
Mclauchlan saw the theory more as an attempt to scare Labour voters: “No one who knows anything about politics believes this could work. And Hooton knows a lot about politics. It’s a line, manufactured to create fear about the potential dire consequences of voting Labour, without any relationship to political reality. It’s stupid.”
Geddis’ first objection is that the public wouldn’t like it: “Politically, the idea of a PM from a party that is not the largest on the government side runs counter to public expectations. We just assume that the leader of the party that “won” the election will be the country’s leader.”
The second, more substantial, objection is that Peters couldn’t govern as PM, because his party would be in a small minority in Cabinet, which would require “Winston to preside over a collective decision-making body where his people can be outvoted constantly. You may very well ask whether Winston has the sort of personality that would deal well with being overruled by his cabinet colleagues on a frequent basis. Equally, you may very well ask if anyone could serve as PM, having to front repeatedly for collective government decisions that she or he disagrees with.”
All items are contained in the attached PDF. Below are the links to the items online.
Election – NZ First
Election – Greens
Election – Labour