Winston Peters always seems to have his hand in the pot of gold.
And 2017, another election year, is no different.
Just as Bill English and the National Party refused to rule out possibilities of Peters working as ‘part-time’ PM, the New Zealand First leader continued to make rapid gains in recent mainstream media polls — and now leads what might be the most significant political decision-making process of this generation.
As much as the National Party wish to ignore it, they need Peters — now more than ever. There is simply no other way. Dunne was past it and went down in his former Ōhāriu stronghold, as Labour’s Greg O’Connor, a former Police Association boss, overtook him — leaving National stranded for the majority vote.
Since the departure of John Key, a confident public speaker who strode onto stages across the country, and internationally, equipped with only his smarts and a sly humour, many traditional National supporters have struggled to see the future of their beloved party.
Point is: the fairy lights have gone out, and suddenly they face a visit from noise control. Internally, and for the purposes of public reputation, it’s not just a want, but a need, for someone like Peters to come and bring life back to the celebrations. More than 47.04% vote percentage as they got in 2014 was always unlikely — but a coalition with New Zealand First, who gained 8.66% in that same election, would certainly have put the minds of English and Bennett at ease.
Yet it didn’t happen.
However, that’s not to say there wasn’t any tension between the ‘political trifecta’ of Peters, English and then-Labour leader Andrew Little. Conflict over potential re-entry onto the Pike River mine cut deep into their relationships, with Little dismissing Peters, and his claim that the controversy should be the ‘bottom line’ in any post-election coalition talks. This came after Peters called English ‘weak’ for refusing to intervene.
The issue for National in their current state is that they don’t have a charismatic leader who is willing to lead from the front. Instead, English, a former public servant and farmer, resembles an only child who is only just learning how to share. He simply doesn’t seem to be able to connect.
During the former age, a vote for National, or even for a National MP, was also one for Key. You only had to look at the billboards tossed around throughout Mt Roskill during the by-election to admire his bald top first, before briefly glimpsing Parmjeet Parmar in the corner as you drove past. Who were they voting for again? Mt Roskill had their say, and it wasn’t Parmar, that’s for sure.
With English this didn’t work. You can’t compare apples and pears just like you can’t compare the man nicknamed as ‘Teflon John’ to the one who spends his downtime shearing sheep in national competitions. The differences are resounding, and you get the feeling that Bill English is a much better right hand man, as opposed to commander-in chief.
But back to Peters. He’s certainly charismatic, and certainly a character to deal with in Parliament. But perhaps that’s exactly what the National Party want? They now need New Zealand First to stay in power, and by partnering with Winston, it might be actually take them in the right direction.
The question is if Peters actually wants to do it.
In the past, his actions have indicated that he is only interested in running his own ship. He wants control — ultimate control, and this will give it to him. As soon as he enters into an agreement with the National Party, he becomes the King. English cannot afford to lose their support, but subsequently, his bargaining powers are incredibly limited as a result. If Peters requests, there is not much the National Party will be able to do except for bow under his reign. Funny, isn’t it? That our Prime Minister might not, in fact, be the most powerful politician any longer.
Of course this is only speculation. Should Peters say no, it’s game on. But as Dunne gave up on his electorate, for the sake of National and their foreseeable future as the primary ruling party, deals need to happen. And, if Peters agrees, we could be in for a groundbreaking partnership which may rock New Zealand politics to its very core.
He’s always been good at doing that though, hasn’t he?
The clock is ticking. And English will be hoping he’s leading a very different National First to the one Winston Peters has in store come mid-October.