Updated: On Relevancy And Lifelines – The Strategic Rise Of Winston Peters

UPDATE: WEDNESDAY 9pm, May 8, 2014 – The Government has overcome its first hurdle managing to have Parliament pass the first reading of the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill by 61 votes to 59.

The bill will now be sent to a special security committee where over the next two months it will be debated and amended before returning to Parliament for consideration.

Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and Mana voted against the bill. National, ACT and United Future voted in favour.

New Zealand First has however given conditional support to the first reading of the invasive Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill which passed 71 votes to 49.


The Situation: New Zealand First – nationalistic, heavily influenced by its leader Winston Peters’ foreign affairs and deputy prime ministerial experience is setting the terms of this National-led government GCSB Amendment Bill.

From a political point of view, this apparent warming alignment between Winston Peters and Prime Minister John Key, while not a rapprochement, is a trial-run for the two party leaders to see how they can and could work together – post 2014.

Yes, Winston Peters has form. These are the idiosyncrasies. He’s a stickler for rules, for detail. He performs well when inside executive government. He’s considered a professional and competent cabinet minister, he works his ministerial officials as a team in that he’s a team player. He drives collegial relationships within the Executive – that is until his political partners change the rules or betray the loyalty he extends to them.

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Can it work again for National? That’s what they are about to decide on.

National-New Zealand First Coalition Government cabinet, 1996.
National-New Zealand First Coalition Government cabinet, 1996.
The Past: In 1996, Jim Bolger found Peters’ loyalty to the National-New Zealand First coalition was absolute.

He helped Bolger remove the lingering specter of Ruth Richardson’s fingers from the economic reins. He worked without crisis as Treasurer with Richardson’s replacement Bill Birch.

From outside, Peters helped Bolger condition National’s caucus into abandoning the excessive user pays ethos it dumped on public hospital outpatients, and brought in free GP visits for children under six years-of-age. And Bolger gave Peters the superannuation policy that he sought. And Peters marshalled in Deborah Morris, one of the best Youth Affairs Ministers that New Zealand has had – from a dedication and focus point of view.

But it all went belly-up when, in a leadership coup, Bolger was done-over by Jenny Shipley. She virtually tore up the National-New Zealand First agreement, reneging on superannuation. Once that trust was destroyed, Peters bellowed to the population, he withdrew from the coalition agreement, and Shipley’s government was left in tatters limping along with a rag-tag assortment of ‘honourables’ enjoying their baubles until the 1999 General Election sorted them out.

John-Key-smugThe Present: John Key’s men will have analysed all of this.

Key knows he’ll need Peters post the 2014 General Election.

From Key’s viewpoint, Peters is the established centrist, a true conservative party leader. By comparison Colin Craig’s clever political brand-naming does not connect him to the old tory traditions of his party’s British namesake. Peters’ politics does, by both foundation, by policy, and by birth-name.

And Winston Peters has sniffed the air. He’s detected an upwind scent, the conception of a progressive Labour-Green government-in-waiting is on the wind. He knows there’s potential of an electorate-swing in evidence.

Peters is a master at this stuff. He detected a swing away from Labour in the lead up to the 2005 General Election. He positioned his party to cast Helen Clark’s Labour a life-line. Post-election it worked. Only just. For both. For a time.

Peters is positioning again now. This time the lifeline is being dressed to be cast National’s way. That gives him options.

Winston Peters-2The Future: Peters knows the Labour-Green voting bloc is where change is heading. The only variable is when. He can work that variable. He needs to between now and the 2014 election. If he doesn’t, he is seen as irrelevant. And we know, that’s not his politics.

Each time Labour and the Greens roll out a ‘Red-Green’, tag-team, policy – especially when the policy’s purpose is to present a practical (even pragmatic) solution to an outrageous problem – Peters’ New Zealand First is left in the centrist wilderness.

Strategically, Peters knows his options must connect and speak to political relevancy.

With ACT chain-stoking, and the Maori Party leaders looking as estranged from each other as their party is from non-corporate iwi and urban Maori, Winston Peters knows his party is in the market for new swing-voters.

From this position, the 2014 General Election will determine either one of three things; post-election New Zealand First will either be:

  • committing to a confidence and supply arrangement with a Labour-Greens government, and supporting legislation on its merit (as he sees it)
  • remaining independent in opposition, creating a power out of opposition politics, as he is right now, or
  • in a coalition agreement or support arrangement with a National government.

Winston-Peters-Russel-NormanIn opposition, Peters has shown he can work with Labour and the Greens on nationalistic economics (especially where it addresses the corrosive affects of externally placed public/private debt, social services outsourced to offshore-owned providers, contributing factors to New Zealand’s serious current account deficit mountain), regional development, manufacturing and export-led economics. There is established common-ground between the trio on such policies.

Peters can work with Labour on superannuation reform, health provision, foreign affairs, Pacific regional aid and immigration, provide an influencing role on trade policy, where Labour would want the Greens to ease back.

But what about the power of opposition? Peters mapped out the second option as his roadmap back to relevancy in the run up to the 2011 election campaign. He said then there is a power in opposition.

That power, when used, holds the incumbent to account and creates opportunity to shape legislation when the incumbent needs the numbers or a legislative mandate (as is the case with the GCSB amendment bill).

Winston-Peters-pressThe Appraisal: New Zealand First supporters must be pleased with his progress. Just when New Zealand First was left out of the GCSB debate, just when it appeared his argument failed to strike an accord with the Parliamentary Press Gallery, Peters rose to cast a lifeline to John Key (the bruised and battered brain-fading prime minister who appeared/appears so far behind the standards set by his predecessors as to display incompetence).

In October 2012, in a television interview between this writer and Winston Peters he compared John Key’s performance as Minister in charge of the intelligence security agencies against the standard set by his predecessor prime ministers.

    Peters said: “I have never heard of a prime minister not taking this seriously. And I believe that the [Prime Minister’s] claim to have not read them [the intelligence briefing] is the same claim as in the Banks case: he deliberately did not read the Police report in the Banks case…”

    He added: “You can pose as the ‘oh shucks’ prime minister, the sort of good ole boy, with a beer in the hand at the barbecue, but the fact is you are the prime minister and I believe he did know. You would have to be totally beset with amnesia and total unawareness to [not] observe that this man (Kim Dotcom) was in your electorate.” In Parliament Winston Peters called for the Prime Minister John Key to sack himself due to his poor performance as the minister in charge of the GCSB.

That’s the backstory to today’s legislative lifeline.

But Peters’ lifeline comes with conditions (see here on May 7, and here on April 16). He gets to influence the legislation into a form that he can tolerate. His party becomes relevant. And come the 2014 General Election, Winston Peters has options. And that’s the best insurance policy National can buy right now.

As a reminder, like Labour and the Greens, Winston Peters has called for a broad inquiry into the Police, the GCSB, and executive government handling of Operation Debut – the sting against internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom. In the interview with this writer (as cited above) Peters said a broad independent inquiry must be led by an Ombudsman or a person who enjoys the confidence of the public such as former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand, GNZM, QSO, KstJ.

That was then. This is now. But if John Key doesn’t play this gambit on Peters’ terms, this legislation could become the nucleus of a party political fight the likes of which this prime minister has never seen. If Key does, then the centre-left must re-configure the Opposition’s demarkation lines.

    The Challenge: At this stage in the journey, after all the solid work they have done in 2013, the challenge is now with Labour, the Green MPs, and the Mana movement to ensure, on this GCSB amendment bill, they remain true to their constituencies and are not rammed into the stalls of political irrelevancy.


  1. I also wonder what effect doing a deal would have on National and Key’s own popularity.

    Remember that his credibility has already been tainted from an accumulation of the events of the past 16 or so months, roughly starting with the Epsom Tea Party and his handling of the fall-out from that event.

    It’s unlikely that National will have the same number of votes that they had in 2011, nor even a similar percentage and his definitive statements about there being no place for Peters in a John Key-led National government during both the 2008 and 2011 election campaigns will surely be brought up and further test his credibility.

  2. Interestingly, Jim Bolger was moving towards a more anarchist political philosophy only months before he got dumped, suggesting councils should have more political power.

  3. Isn’t that the same Key who said at the last election that he could not trust Winston and would not form a partnership with him?

  4. @ afewknowthetruth ! Bingo ! Dead on the money . A few words can say so much . Peters is who the Neoliberal oligarch deploy when it looks as if [they] might be at risk of losing grip of their very , very profitable status quo . Parliament Buildings is a rats nest and any little terrier that goes in there with the best intentions gets eaten alive . The ruling elite stick to a script as if their lives depend upon it and will crush any dissenter . Those few who have destroyed our country and have deliberately created three generations of a dysfunctional sub class out of good , hard working Kiwis are still playing the game . The fact that they’re still in there exerting their influence over our lives should give rise to sleepless nights or terrible nightmares . There’s absolutely no need for hungry , poorly educated kids , there should be no need to worry if you get sick and need fixing , there should be no need for retired people to worry about how to pay the power bill . These simple rights and entitlements were bled out by greedy , dirty , cunning men and women whom we voted for then paid to act in our best interests . Look around ? Is this the best value for money we can get ? We all live in a land legendary for it’s bounty and we’re broke . That’s not our fault ! That’s their fault ! Winston Peters is a confederate and only those too desperate to believe otherwise would not see that .

    Mark my words ( Thanks Aunty V ) As incorruptible social networking starts to bite harder and the foxy breeds with the pitbull you’ll see the Neo Fascist , neoliberal old guard look to dirtier and dirtier tricks to diffuse debate and divert attention . Interestingly , it’ll be their cornered rat , death throws that will finally give their game away .

    There’s a bush fire coming you bastards ! Where are you going to scurry too ? To our money ? Is it in Switzerland ? Is it in the Cook Islands ? It’s not here in NZ . It’s not in health , education , dental , housing , public transport , rural banks , rural towns , public broadcasting , it’s not in retirement funds for the men and women who built up the infrastructures with their taxes which you then sold to foreigners so your mates could profit , not us ! ( Read November 2012 issue of North and South magazine re Michael Fay )

    And on a completely different subject , or perhaps not . I see little Billy ‘ double dipper , the Dipton Dribbler ‘ English is setting us up to sell our coal industry off arguing it’s unprofitable . Bull shit it is , you fucking liar ! You sneering , lying little man .

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