Winston the elephant

There was a rather large elephant in the room through the weekend at the National Party conference.

Though the party had, in the words of one senior Beehive adviser “stage managed the shit out of the conference” talking to MPs and delegates revealed a party that has one major issue on its mind.

And the issue is the Rt Hon Winston Peters.

National strategists have believed for a while that NZ First was making up ground but that it was winning that ground off Labour.

However, the election results in Australia, Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump all point to this being a time when established parties need to take populist insurgents seriously.

It’s not just a question of whether National will need New Zealand First and Peters to form a Government, but would he even consider it as long as John Key leads them, and if he did, would their agreement to have him join to end the same way his previous engagement with National did under Jenny Shipley in 1998.

Their preference is to have the current Government and its support parties be re-elected with much the same numbers it has now.

And that’s the official line; that’s what the goal is.

The elephant in the room is that National are slowly drifting ever more to the left, allowing Winston more play in the middle. Readers have noted that Winston is ‘starting to make sense’ to them. 

Steven Joyce, who will manage National’s campaign next year, doesn’t seem too phased by Winston’s pitch to the anti-Maori rights electorate.“There’s different challenges in different areas and that way you solve those challenges is by getting everyone round a table and come up with practical solutions.”

Mr Joyce though knows Peters power only too well. Last year he managed National’s campaign in the Northland by-election which saw a long time National seat turn over to NZ First. In part, tghat was driven by the same forces of voters’ alienation that have been seen in the Brexit vote and in the support for Donald Trump.

So could it spread here?

“Lots of people will assume that that sort of phenomenon applies all over the world,” he told POLITIK.

“But I don’t think that’s the case, but then you should be vigilant and stay really connected to your voters because if you don’t, then you risk the sort of things that we’ve seen in the UK.”

And as Minister of Economic Development Mr Joyce has quite clearly been targeting those provincial areas where NZ First might get a foothold.“

“We need to stay close to the regions, look to adopt projects that will catalyse growth and look to solve the infrastructure problems.”

He believes that it’s not National who is losing in the regions – but Labour.

Believing is not knowing. And what Steve believes and knows are two different things. That’s how Winston took Northland off National, something for which Steve and his crew still have to atone.

Amusingly, National are so busy making sure they steal every bit of Labour policy that they are leaving their flanks unguarded. And, Winston continues to be the most experienced political animal in parliament.

 

– Richard Harman, Politik


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