As we move closer and closer to the climactic events of the 2017 General Election, an ever-increasing (if not outright bewildering) array of political journalists, talkback radio hosts, and errant blubbery bloggers will mysteriously transmogrify themselves into ungainly combinations of soothsayer-entrail-readers spliced with Buzzfeed-grade clickbait provisioners.
The target of their churnalistic political-tarot-card-reading bravado? Many things, but in the main New Zealand First and our upcoming (and much vaunted) role in one or more potential governing coalitions.
On a certain level, it’s natural and understandable that there’d be this level of interest in what we’re going to do. The political terrain has aligned in such a way that New Zealand First is vital to just about ANY Government from EITHER side of the Aisle forming. Perhaps more importantly, NZF is one of the most intriguing Parties and phalanxes of personalities for political observers, academics and newshounds to follow – so given we’ve been so successful at capturing the popular imagination of the voting public recently, it should come as no surprise that our good name is to be used in order to inspire readership by the big television and news-media networks.
The trouble, though, is it seems a not insignificant number of journalists aren’t actually particularly interested in reporting the truth. Or even the likely truth. Instead, they go for attention-grabbing headlines (‘clickbait’ it might be called), which are designed to sensationalize out of all proportion, meaning and semblance of realism, things about New Zealand First and Winston Peters in pursuit of eyeballs.
We saw it over the weekend when Stuff completely manufactured a quote from Winston to suggest an Islamophobic attitude on his behalf. What he said was that there was quite a diversity of views within the Muslim world as to the treatment of women. The headline which showed up all over my social media feed was “‘Muslim’s [sic] don’t respect woman’: Peters”. See what I mean? The press is quite happy to engage in lies, spin and distortion in pursuit of that precious, precious advertising revenue-stream.
Despite acknowledging the potential for NZ First to play a crucial role in a Labour-Greens Government post-2017, Dann nevertheless insists that we’ll side with National purely on the strength of analysis that “National[‘s got] 48 [percent”.
It is, needless to say, a bit risky to base anything of substance concerning future predictions for NZ First on something as vicissitudinal and unreliable as New Zealand media opinion polls.
Having said that, the reference in Dann’s piece to the alleged difficulties of NZ First working with The Greens do deserve examination. And yes – it’s true. Even despite both NZ First and The Green Party providing Confidence & Supply to a Labour-led Government during Helen Clark’s last term as Prime Minister … our relationship has historically been a bit fraught. I’ve detailed the precise points of skirmishing many times in previous blog-posts, but suffice to say a certain generation of Greens didn’t like Winston (there’s a small flurry of Greens press releases dated circa 2004 which criticize him as some form of Nazi), and Winston appears to have had a certain degree of political animosity towards Russel Norman for shenanigans which eventuated as a result of the latter’s role on the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in 2008.
I’ve also detailed in several articles how the relationship between New Zealand First and The Greens has considerably improved in recent years (especially following the election of James Shaw to the Greens’ co-leadership position; and most recently with the elevation of Deborah Morris-Travers, a former NZ First *Cabinet Minister* to the position of the Green Party’s Chief of Staff, done with Winston’s blessing) … but there does remain one obvious sticking point, as cited by Winston himself.
In his view, the Greens are a party whose position on Treaty affairs, biculturalism, or whatever you may wish to call it, is one of racial division rather than unitary nationalism. Whether he’s right or wrong about this, New Zealand First’s strong and continuing support within Maoridom means that it’s difficult to write this sort of sentiment off as mere conservative white person redneckery. (I would also add that the fact we comprehensively beat the Green Party at the last Election for party vote in all but two of the Maori electorates may potentially suggest that our vision is found rather more compelling than The Greens’ own amongst New Zealanders who’ve consciously chosen, for electoral purposes at least, to identify as Maori)
But what interests me about this particular patu-in-the-works is not how it applies to the Green Party. I believe those differences between them and us are, to some degree, surmountable. Instead, it’s the fact that this very issue – so important to Winston that he made it one of our Coalition bottom lines at the last Election – is also something he regularly and rigorously criticizes the National Party over.
In other words, and to speak plainly – the only salient reason Winston can articulate for keeping the Greens at arms’ length … is exactly the same thing that’s wrong with National.
So surely, by that reason alone coalition with National ought to be regarded as at least as equidistantly unappealing as working with The Greens.
But then we factor in other things. The more centrally important issues of economic management and policy upon which New Zealand First and The Greens share so incredibly much common ground. On everything from opposing asset sales and the TPPA to seeking to clean up NZ’s status as a tax haven, and reforming the Reserve Bank Act, the Green Party and New Zealand First fundamentally agree a whole helluvalot more than National and NZF do. In fact, the Black and Blue visions for New Zealand and its future couldn’t be more different if they were outright diametrically opposed.
Another core area which Winston-watchers frequently neglect is the importance of what you might term ‘personal loyalties’ and ‘grudge-bearing’ to the man. He’s got strong and enduring linkages to the Labour Party both from his time as their Foreign Affairs minister between 2005-2008, and previous. In a column published late last month, he was incredibly quick to point out how well he related to prominent Labour figures such as David Parker. I somehow don’t see him writing defences for New Zealand National Party Ministers with anything like the same vigor.
More to the point, the chips on Winston’s shoulders as applies National are so bifurcatingly large that he’d have to walk sideways in order to even think about entering a National Party caucus room.
Deep down, he’s never forgiven them for the way they treated him in the early-90s when he railed against Ruthanasia and found himself on National’s outer pending eventual expulsion. Forcing them to rely upon him for C&S in 1996 was some measure of revenge – as Deputy Prime Minister he suddenly outranked so very many of those craven individuals who’d dared to attempt to lay him low. But ultimately, it proved unsatisfying, as he still effectively served at National’s pleasure (as demonstrated by the manner and form of the coalition’s dissolution), and found himself maneuvered into a bit of a corner (not to mention a sticky situation) in consequence. This, in many ways, simply lead to further loathing and recriminations. A situation which was only exacerbated when John Key stuck a knife into Winston repeatedly over the whole 2008-2013 period.
So I think it’s fair to state that Winston still bears a fairly large grudge against both National in general, and specifically its present Leadership. It’s thus highly unlikely, while John Key still presides over National, that Winston would seek a governing arrangement with them.
Meanwhile, while it’s definitely true that there’s been some ‘grudgery’ directed towards The Greens in the past, it would appear on the face of it that this antipathy has increasingly become just that. A thing of the past. James Shaw appearing on Q&A over the weekend could confidently point towards improved relations with NZF, and even cite a personal closeness between Metiria Turei and Winston as evidence that we’re able to bridge the divide.
Thus, as an associate put it: “While it’s true he has a grudge against the Greens, I’d argue that with Russel Norman out of the picture (the main target of his dislike), his grudge against National outweighs his grudge against the Greens.”
It was also pointed out by the same associate that it’s the somewhat reciprocal ties of loyalty between Winston and certain elements within Labour that will likely form the bedrock of any presumptive NZ First-Labour-Greens coalition, with antipathies towards the Greens being something of a more remote secondary consideration.
Although it does also behoove me to point out that there are a range of possible alternate arrangements for NZ First in 2017 beyond working with Labour and the Greens – or even coalition with National. We’ve done quite a competent job from the Cross-Benches and Opposition in the past – and as The Greens’ own Memorandum of Understanding with the National Party which was in force from 2011 to 204 proves, it’s perfectly possible to work with the governing parties of the day on areas of shared interest without necessarily selling one’s political soul.
But all things considered, I’m yet to see any serious evidence from either journalists or hacktivists which might serve to convince me that New Zealand First aligning with National is either a probability or the most likely possibility. Instead, despite the ongoing baying of certain attention-seeking figures to the contrary, the two paths which appear open for NZF at this present point of time are remaining in Opposition (perhaps in perpetuity) or reaching some form of accord with the Labour-Greens bloc.
I am sure that as the months wind down on the ever-closening approaching to 2017, the headlines and the bylines will become ever more shrill and discordant as they seek to paint New Zealand First as the fantastical – and fantasy-strewn – perfect partner for all manner of disparate, diverse and deleterious governing combinations.
But remember: It’s the People that decide what the government looks like. Not the Pundits and the News Publishers.
[Note: Thanks to Alex for being that associate]