On NZ First’s Impending Return To Parliament – Both In The Mirror & Through The Looking-Glass


There’s a quip often (and probably erroneously) attributed to Mark Twain which goes something like “History doesn’t repeat itself – but it often rhymes.”

It’s something I’ve occasionally had in my head as concerns NZ political history and various then-current events … but rarely so pointedly than the present situation concerning my old party, New Zealand First.

Which, for those assumedly living under a rock or up a river somewhere in the South Island trout-fishing and trying to hide away from the media …

… is that having been turfed out of Parliament three years prior following their not-terrible term as part of a Labour-led Government, they’re now polling somewhere in the 5-6% range and looking like they’ll return.

You know – rather like 2011.

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Except it isn’t.

And before we go any further upon all of that score, I’d like to take a moment to do that most 21st century of things and … clarify my pronouns going forward.

You’ll hear me say “We” a fair bit in the course of this piece. That’s in reference to the Party I was part of, joined up in 2009, served on its Board of Directors for nearly half a decade (including through the 2011 Campaign), and was finally sent into exile from circa 2017 following my public statements of dissatisfaction as to how certain elements therein were conspiring for a long-term ‘drift to the right’.

I say “We” there – and I think, as applies commenting upon the 2011 Campaign, that I’ve earned that right.

At other times, you’ll hear me say “They”. That, of course, refers to the Party … after I was out of it (oddly enough, only in one sense to the term – very much clean-and-sober otherwise), and most especially as applies its present ‘heel-turn‘ phase from late 2020 onward.

I still voted for them in 2017 – and do believe that I made the right call going hard for them in the years prior to that, because we got a pretty decent Government from 2017-2020 thanks to NZF’s coalition decision; but I would be highly, highly unlikely to do so again.

And with that heaped helping of DISCLAIMER out of the way … on with the show!

Partially, this article has been motivated via the … peculiar pronouncement made by NZ First to its membership over the weekend that it isn’t “backed by big business”, but instead “relies on our grassroots supporters for financial support”.

Because yeah – once upon a time, that was absolutely true. And it makes it all the more remarkable how we (as we were at that point) managed to pull off what we did circa 2011 – amidst a condition of media virtual blackout, no less!

And that’s why I must confess that I find this current chicanery to be so … bad taste, because it almost feels like the ‘Spirit of 2011’ is being worn like a most macabre puppet. It’s got all the overt signaling of an ‘out-group’ political insurgency against some unrepresentative ‘elite’ … as funded by and working for the interests of some of New Zealand’s wealthiest men.

But let’s go back to the (first) campaign in question, and take a look at some facts therein.

In 2011, we campaigned off the smell of an oily rag (a dangerous thing to do with that many cigarettes smoldering at once!)

The total spend for election expenses (advertising etc.) was $144,570.61, with a broadcasting allocation from the Electoral Commission of $102,000. As you can see, the $48,534 from 551 donors which the Party recorded in 2011 (as well as for the periods 2010 & 2009) was pretty sorely needed and actively utilized.

To put this in context – David Farrar’s analysis (which uses the ~$155k figure which NZF had earlier submitted for its 2011 return – this was later amended downward by over ten thousand dollars in an amended filing) had NZF spending $1.06 per vote.

Getting 6.59% as a result

For further context, here’s Farrar’s full table for 2011:


Which, as you can see, has NZF being incredibly ‘efficient’ when it comes to dollars-into-votes.

You know how that happens? When you’re actually campaigning hard because you can’t afford to do it the rich way.

Going into 2023, meanwhile, we find quite a different story. Namely – 398,597.83 of donations & loans [from 122 donors; mostly in the 5k to 15k range] for 2022307,125 [from 63 donors] for 2021; and $600,000 from 11 donors declared for 2023 thus far [plus a very large estate bequest from former candidate, Hugh Barr].

So, I’ll rephrase that – they’ve gone from getting around less than $50,000 in donations over 3 years total and fighting an election on that [and much more than that – but by this I mean manpower & enthusiasm not dollars] … through to hauling in 6x, 8x, 12x that [26x all up?] from an evidently much smaller donor pool.

Something which, looking forward from our perspective back there in 2011, would have seemed rather surprising, I have to say – considering all the rich-listers usually better-known for backing ACT who appear to have suddenly experienced manic bursts of patriotism over the past twelve months and thus opened their wallets for Winston et co.

Although then again we also distinctly recall Shane Jones bringing long-time backers, Talleys, to the party from 2017 onward [$26,950 from 2017-2019 via the NZ First Foundation; $10,000 to Jones’ own Whangarei campaign in 2017] – which appears to have netted the fisheries company a decent return as applies the long-running advocacy (and/or policy road-blocking) from the self-described “industry apostle”.

And, for that matter, one Troy Bowker who’d bestowed (via property company Caniwi Capital Partners) some $24,150 for 2019 – and who would probably have been rather pleased when NZ First performed an abrupt volte-face on supporting the Government’s Covid rent-relief proposal mid-2020 following what had appeared to be their earlier support.

But let’s get back to our core theme here.

That being NZ First’s 2023 efforts as ironic echo of 2011’s insurgent gains.

It’s now a ‘big money’ campaign. In multiple senses to the term.

Why do I mention that?

Because if we run back to 2011, that Farrar figure of $1.06 per vote … and 6.59% as an eventual result (with a pervasive clime of media blackout, I might add!) ; this contrasts rather heavily with NZF circa 2023 having spent most of the past year at between 2% and 4.5% – only in the last few weeks cracking the 5% threshold.

This is in spite of:

i) the fact that they’ve managed to have a significant run of advertisements in the likes of the NZ Herald (seriously, for weeks upon weeks now, literally every day I open my newspaper – physical newspaper, because I’m an old man like that – I am confronted with advertising for NZ First therein; I am sure it’s much the same across other parts of the country);

ii) what I anticipate to be a similarly … pervasive / expansive suite of other advertising expenditure via other mediums (a family member had related seeing a full-on billboard in prime position out there somewhere, for instance – not a hoarding, a billboard; although I accept that that’s anecdotal evidence);

iii) the party (and Winston specifically) has been in receipt of a much more favourable media environment – by which, I should hasten to clarify, I don’t mean that media outlets and journalists are giving him an easy time when talking about him or the party. They’re often not. But more that they’re talking about him and the party at all – and have been doing so for some time.

And as applies that last point – in politics, that maxim of Oscar Wilde’s (aptly enough, given our subject, from ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’) that “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”, is very much cross-applicable to politics.

Now, of course, I don’t know how much money NZF has spent on its campaign this year thus far (or, for that matter, its efforts in the past two years falling outside the count period) – but as I say, I don’t think they’re putting all them hundreds of thousands they’re getting per year into playing the Auckland property market.

And while, admittedly, it’s certainly possible that they’ll wind up with an Election Night result which is notably above where they’re currently polling – say, in the 7% range; on the basis of where they’re at now, it looks like they’ve spent a metric trucktonne (that’s a technical unit of measurement) more cash (in a more amenable media environment) now to get not as far as we did 12 years ago.

There are, of course, a few likely reasons for this (not-quite-yet-a-) result.

One of which, somebody will say, is under-polling. Yet I don’t know how apt that might actually be. After all – the last poll before the 2020 Election (a Reid Research) actually overpolled NZ First (3.5% in the poll – versus 2.6% as the actual result), whilst the two previous Colmar-Bruntons, at 2.4% and 2.6% (the latter closest to the Election) were pretty much bang-on.

Instead, I suspect there’s a substantive reasoning to it:

I don’t think they’ve really recovered from their losses / alienation of support from the 2017 campaign onward.

And I should, perhaps, clarify that by explaining what I’m referring to there.

The 2017 campaign saw a marked tac ‘rightwards’ and loud noises about Maori issues … a risky move considering i) the Party’d gotten back in in 2011 and then built its support further in 2014, through left-wing or Labour-protest-/tactical-vote support; ii) had strong Maori support (seriously – as a brief illustrative exemplar, up until 2017 some of the strongest-performing electorates for party-vote for NZ First percentage-wise have tended to be the Maori Seats … even despite the Party not standing candidates therein).

I gather that the objective with all of this was to actively court National / right-wing support; on the presumption that National was at its high-water mark, and that National sloughing off support would either lead to a bolstering for ACT / the New Conservatives (the latter .. at a much more microscopic scale), or could lead to NZ First’s gain.

This isn’t merely speculation upon my part. I was actually told this quite directly – with a literal illustration being given in the form of the Party’s 2017 ‘branding’ and outreach materials. These featuring a new style of logo with chevrons pointing ‘to the right’, and in many cases with a pointedly ‘blue sky’ backdrop prominent thereupon. Subtle.

The trouble being the presumption that the Party’s membership and more especially voter-following was effectively ‘locked in’, despite not inconsiderable chunks of it having come from Labour / (anti-National) protest vote over the two elections previous. Or, at the very least, that they’d be able to ‘trade’ any ‘left-ish’ support for the anticipated gains from National (and, of course, the Conservative Party – having imploded – with its 3.97% showing in 2014).

As for how they went with it … well, ok, in fairness, I do distinctly recall them picking up a whole gaggle of ex-(New)Cons etc. into the membership. But it was, at best, treading water – and really, their vote went from 8.66% in 2014 through to 7.2% in 2017 [that being, in actual vote terms, 208,300 => 186,706 … even despite turnout going up], so in reality they lost votes.

And then proceeded to compound upon this in each of the 2017 coalition negotiations and then subsequently the 2020 campaign itself.

The former, obviously, was where NZ First ultimately sided with Labour (which I do believe to have been the correct move – albeit handled escalatingly poorly as the term wore on) … thus annoying the hell out of the very same National / (New) Con etc. support they’d just sought to sacrifice their more left-ish saliency for.

The latter, meanwhile, was that curious episode wherein instead of playing the ‘Elder Statesman’ who’d enabled (and was integral to) probably the most popular government in living memory at the time … Winston wound up endeavouring to run against the Government he was still serving in – winning over few, and losing further again.

Personally, I find these recurrent twists and contortions rather eyebrow-raising – although probably not for the overtly obvious reason.

Rather, it’s because I well remember a conversation with Winston in early 2011 when we were headed down from Auckland into the Waikato for a day’s campaigning. We’d been talking about – from memory – the newfangled discipline of ‘political marketing’, and its seeming insistence that parties go out of their way to chop and change (even wholesale reinvent themselves) in order to chase some no-doubt focus-group identified ‘key demographic’.

Winston was (to my mind quite rightly) dismissive of the whole concept. To his mind – at least at the time – that was the opposite of a good idea. And in order to illustrate the essential problem as to the proposition, he invoked that well-known fable of the man, the boy, and the donkey.

For those unaware – … you know what, I’ll just quote the damn thing.

“A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by his side a countryman passed them and said, “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?” So the man put the boy on the donkey, and they went on their way.

But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said, “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other, “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passersby began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.

The men said, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours — you and your hulking son?”

The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, until at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them until they came to a bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and his forefeet being tied together, he was drowned.

Try to please everyone, and you will please no one.”

As it happens, I was, of course, already in agreement with Winston’s point all the way back there in early 2011 – with no need for him to then provide us with a tangible multi-year demonstration running from circa 2017 to near the present in order to really drive the point home.

Although that said – it’s not exactly accurate to say that NZ First has ended up ‘pleasing no-one’. It just took awhile to find its ‘new crowd’.

Specifically, about four months. That being the approximate temporal distance between this statement from Winston on the 4th of October, 2021, wherein he demands a pretty serious (over-)extension of the vaccine mandate concept …

… and Winston’s visit some 141 days later on February 22nd last year to Thorndon’s answer to Glastonbury centered on Parliament’s front lawn.

As it happened, that was also the point at which the occupation protest really got ugly. Not, you understand, due to Winston’s unmasked appearance – but rather due to the bewildering spectacle of a protester speeding his car the wrong way down Molesworth Street into a crowd in a bid to hit a row of police.

That was a day before Winston’s visit, and came hot on the heels (and/or other protester anatomy) of attempted-bombardments of police by protesters literally flinging human excrement at them.

All things considered, it was not perhaps the most obvious place I’d have anticipated a party which has often presented itself as pretty actively concerned about law and order issues to be going fishing for photo-ops at.

Not least given that the gentleman who’d accompanied Winston upon that occasion, former NZF MP (and generally pretty sharp guy) Darroch Ball (more recently a co-leader of the Sensible Sentencing Trust) had previously felt strongly enough against assaults on first responders that he’d successfully introduced a Member’s Bill to make the more serious of these a standalone offence under the Crimes Act (and, it should be noted, extend the already-existing coverage under the Summary Offences Act for assaults on police, traffic, and prison officers to also encompass both medical and fire service first responder personnel as well).

And while there are, no doubt, a great many further things which could be said about the … piquant alignment of New Zealand’s anti-vax and/or anti-mandate and/or anti-coherent-understanding-as-to-international-jurisprudence-pertaining-toward-crimes-against-humanity-carried-out-in-the-1940s movement around Winston et co – that isn’t the purpose to this article.

Besides which, I’m sure Andrea Vance did a much better job in her piece upon the subject published in the Sunday Star Times a few weeks earlier.

I would, however, observe that this, too, is a case of one of those curious ‘rhyming’ leitmotifs for New Zealand First.

In that in 2011 – it was, indeed, a voice for a severality of sectors of Kiwi society who felt they’d been marginalized via the rather radical socioeconomic ‘experimentation’ which had been foisted upon us for the preceding then-twenty seven years of onrushing Neoliberalism.

Hence, you understand, why it was significantly so antipathic toward National.

Whereas come 2023, we find that there’s another array of persons who insist that they’ve been marginalized by Government (specifically, the one the party they’re now lining up behind was actively party to … and which then sought to criticize for not going far enough in various measures which would have marginalized the anti-vax and anti-mandate sorts further) … oh, and the whole thing’s backed by a billionaire and is very explicitly proclaiming it intends to empower the National (and ACT, it seems) party back into Government.

That is what I mean by a ‘rhyme’ rather than a mere ‘repeat’ – it is, as it were, a ‘mirror image’. That’s why everything is seemingly exactly the wrong way around.

I contemplated opening this piece with that famous dictum of Marx – that “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Yet I truly do not believe that New Zealand First’s insurgent return to Parliament the first time around was a tragedy – although certainly, certain of the events and choices made in the decade-and-then-some since that occurrence could most certainly bear such a sobriquet descriptor.

Indeed, it reminds one of the passage from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (nothing should be read into the fact the chapter is, itself, entitled ‘The Old Buffoon’):

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love […] The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill — he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.”

But again we digress, and with it heading toward dawn on the day afore the Election, I really should hurry up and get this thing published.

General Koechlin-Schwartz reportedly remarked to Patton that the poorer the quality of infantry, the more it needed artillery … and that the American infantry needed all the artillery they could get .

NZF’s big-spend bombardment should seem to be covering for just such a gap.

In closing, I should like to quote a great man, a politician who – whilst flawed – I genuinely admired, and was proud to serve under.

He observed the following:

“No one pays a million dollars to a political party without asking for something. Members should ask Michael Fay about that. He paid the National Party a million dollars, did he not? And this was the deal: “You bail me out from the BNZ and you get me into State asset sales, and I will get a return of three to one. I will put on that million dollars for you, and I will get, by the freedom of policies, $300 for every dollar I put down.” That is National; that is its record.

Those ignoramuses can scream and shout, but I know about that. I was there, and I saw what was done. I saw how National was prepared to compromise some hard-working lady down in Gore or some poor guy in Kaitāia, who were making cakes, organising hoedowns, and picking up membership for the National Party. But National was prepared to put all those people aside for the sake of the few or the very few—or, as Roosevelt put it, those over-mighty subjects.”

His name was Winston Peters.

I can’t help but wonder what has happened to him since.


  1. Winston Peters. Machiavellian
    adjective: Machiavellian cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics.
    “a whole range of outrageous Machiavellian manoeuvres”

    Winston Peters. Confederate.
    noun: confederate; plural noun: confederates; noun: Confederate; plural noun: Confederates
    1. a person one works with, especially in something secret or illegal; an accomplice.
    “where was his confederate, the girl who had stolen Richard’s wallet?”
    Winnie? What were you and Don Brash talking about at that cafe in that photograph that time?
    If you vote for winston peters/NZ First much less the national party and/or ACT then you haven’t done your research then exercised due diligence.
    Due diligence:
    Due diligence is the investigation or exercise of care that a reasonable business or person is normally expected to take before entering into an agreement or contract with another party or an act with a certain standard of care.
    Ponder this?
    If we, back in 1984, had exercised due diligence after we, the people, realised that roger douglas was a traitor, a confederate and a Machiavellian liar who’s intent was to destroy the working people’s politic i.e. The Labour Party just to help his privateer mates help them selves greedily to our taxes paid for assets and services we’d not have gone through the last 39 years of unnecessary misery. Do you really want to look into your kids eyes in another 39 years and tell them honestly that you fucked it up again?
    Read this from Finn Flynn via The Daily Blog.
    Let the numbers sink in.

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  3. A good read. Ignorami belittling Peters as ‘just’ the Gold Card person, and the girls’ toilet policeman, could try reading his history on Wikipedia rather than parroting Ardern-type click-bait ad infinitum.

  4. What must pundits do not understand/ appreciate is that with the gold card Winston has created a perpetual admiration society.
    For many retirees gold card use seriously adds to their standard of living and for that they are forever gratefull, consequently reward him with their vote.
    Pertetual, for as each day a few drop off this mortal coil, so too do some attain the age of 65 and are thus added to the appreciation society.
    Now last election, 2020 they were more gratefull for Jacinda keeping them alive, and rewarded her at Winstons expense, that having past it is now back to Winston the benefactor.

  5. Welcome back Curwen
    A great read.
    Shame NZ first been taken over by conspiracy bullshit and property speculators.

  6. I cannot help but feel the Gnats, NZF, & ACT are three problems in a trenchcoat pretending to be a solution. The longer one is at war, the more one grows to resemble one’s enemies, and the same may be said of Labour, the Greens, and TPM.

    We are a nation of sheep led by goats and monkeys. Any random person off the streets would do a better job.

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