Prime Minister Winston Peters. Here’s how


…Peters will only retire after he has fulfilled his ambition of one day being prime minister. It’s even said to have been put on the able in NZ First’s protracted negotiations to form a government in 1996.

Election night 2017 might be now or never for Peters, given he will be 72 by the time the next election rolls around.

Which is why the Labour-Greens cooperation agreement announced this week might be the game changer everyone is talking about, but not in the way they think.

Because it may bring Peters’ dream within his grasp.

How so?

It’s been 20 years since the first MMP election and while we think we’ve seen every permutation and political curveball it can throw at us, there’s still one scenario that has never been tested with the public.

That scenario is one in which the party with the biggest share of the popular vote is ousted by a coalition of smaller parties.

In the initial wash-up after the Labour-Greens announcement, everyone seemed in agreement on one thing – that it would push some soft Labour votes into NZ First’s arms.

National would be the ultimate beneficiary, the thinking goes, since Peters is actually utterly predictable when it comes to coalition negotiations, despite appearances to the contrary.

He has always gone with the party that wins the most votes on election night, and that includes the 1996 election, even if National was only ahead of Labour by a whisker and it took him six weeks to get there.

And the Greens and Labour combined will still not have more votes than National. 

Some were even calling the Labour-Greens announcement on Wednesday a political suicide note.

Yet none of the key players – Andrew Little, Metiria Turei, or James Shaw – is stupid. In fact, they are all smart people.

So too are the people who stand behind them; the likes of outgoing Green Party chief of staff Andrew Campbell, and Labour chief of staff Matt McCarten.

It’s inexplicable they would have failed to weigh up the arguments for and against the deal before taking such a giant leap.

So we have to assume they had their reasons.

On it’s own the deal doesn’t change much. It probably caused more ripples among the Labour-Green activist base than it did among the wider public, who were more likely scratching their heads and wondering what changed.

After all, National has been lumping the two together for years because it thinks the Greens spook off soft Labour votes.

Unsurprisingly, more than a handful of Labour MPs silently agree with that theory but they were overruled this week.

But National has also exploited the differences between the two.

Advertisements during the last campaign showing Labour and Green crew members trying to row a boat in different directions were devastatingly effective.

If Wednesday’s announcement was about nothing else, it was about countering a rerun of that ad campaign.

There is no way Labour and Green will be able to row a boat in a straight line.

On the surface, it also seems like a determined bid by the Greens to make sure they aren’t left at the altar yet again.

Labour has stitched up three governments under MMP, none of which had a Green MP at the Cabinet table.

Twice it was kept out by centre right parties, United Future and/ or NZ First.

Sure the deal expires on election night, as Little was at pains to explain. But the left would be torn apart if Labour seriously contemplated exercising that option.

So where does NZ First come in?

Labour’s big concession in doing the deal is that it will need other parties to have any chance at winning the next election.

After its 2014 drubbing, Labour MPs were convinced things could only get better. But the unthinkable now seems much more real – a four term National government, and Labour sitting out another three years in Opposition.

If that hasn’t set off some deep soul searching in Labour it should have. It can no longer afford to think of itself as a National-like party of the left – huge, monolithic, with coalition partners treated as accidental bolt-ons, rather than equals.

If Labour fails to lift its poll rating, and the Greens get somewhere in the mid to high teens, then they will need NZ First to have any hope of governing. It’s not unthinkable even that Peters could carry NZ First to within cooey of Labour and the Greens, given his reinvention as a voice for the forgotten regions, and the new farmers party.

Under that scenario, NZ First would almost be a first among equals. And Peters would be the only one among the other leaders with Cabinet experience. He was even deputy prime minister once.

See where this is heading?

Winston for PM?


– Tracy Watkin, Stuff

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