Hooton on the rise of King Peters

Matthew Hooton was one of the first to posit that Winston Peters is aiming for a big swansong to leave politics.

The polls are pointing to that conclusion.

He’s never been Prime Minister, but wants to at least have some time in the job.

Sceptics of the Peters? plan all miss two important points. The first is that the people of New Zealand simply aren?t stakeholders in post-election negotiations. No one voted for Mr Peters to become Jim Bolger?s treasurer in 1996 or Helen Clark?s foreign minister in 2005. On both occasions, voters would have considered the very idea laughable ? and, indeed, I was laughed at on Radio New Zealand?sNine to Noon?in 2004 when I first raised the idea of Mr Peters becoming foreign minister.

More recently, it?s doubtful New Zealanders have really wanted United Future?s Peter Dunne to have responsibility for tax collection or drug policy, or Act?s David Seymour to set up charter schools. But, immediately after an election, the next is a political lifetime away and the politicians go for whatever they can get, regardless of what voters think.

The second point is that a Peters-chaired government would not be seeking a second term anyway. If Mr Peters? aspirations could be negotiated back to a single year, Andrew Little or a new National leader would have to wait just 12 months to become prime minister and would then have two full years to refresh the government and make a pitch for re-election. Sir Winston would be safely packed off to Observatory Circle or New Zealand House.

Ambitious politicians would have little doubt they could get voters to forget about the controversial origins of their government in that timeframe. Do you recall what the political controversy du jour was even six months ago? (Hint: in early November I wrote about the Royal New Zealand Navy?s invitation to the US to send a vessel to its birthday party later this year.)

Right now with Winton Peters leading Andrew Little in the preferred Prime Minister stakes he clearly has a greater claim to the role of Leader of the Opposition. He is certainly more believable as an alternate PM than Andrew Little.

There is much to be frightened of with a Labour/Greens government, but not much to worry about with a NZFirst/National government.

If it came to it, the business community may not ultimately have too much to fear about Mr Peters chairing a National-dominated cabinet for a year and getting his prime ministerial visits to the Oval Office and the Queen. Someone like Paula Bennett would be deputy prime minister, social policy czar and heir apparent. Bill English could retain finance, Murray McCully foreign affairs and Todd McClay trade. Simon Bridges could continue to look after energy, transport and climate change, Amy Adams the justice system and Judith Collins the cops. Of the NZ First crew, only Ron Mark might become defence minister, Tracey Martin put in charge of schools and Shane Jones elevated to run Steven Joyce?s regional development and corporate welfare schemes.

?More alarming to business is the deal it would be easier for Mr Peters to pull off given current polls: chairing a Labour-dominated cabinet for a year. Andrew Little would be deputy prime minister and heir apparent, Mr Robertson would keep the books, Ms Ardern would run social policy, and James Shaw and Metiria Turei given free rein to implement the highly ambitious climate-change policy Mr Peters outlined last November in Pt Chevalier.

?It may sound horrendous. But if you were Labour, marooned in the 20s in the polls for nearly a decade and facing a fourth term in opposition and a new leadership spill, or the Green Party, never having served a single day in government since its formation, why wouldn?t you grab the deal?

I don’t think Winston would go with a Labour/Greens partnership. It has one too many parties, and he really loathes the Greens. That said, the Greens plus NZ First have more votes than Labour alone…so Labour could find themselves squeezed.

Right now, though, Winston Peters likes things simple and stabbing John Key to make the?deal?is something that the National caucus wouldn’t even spend any time thinking about. For years John Key has worried about Judith Collins, when it has always been Winston Peters he should fear.