Winston: 2017 will be fought in the provinces

…even though more than half of the votes are in Auckland.

New Zealand First will ramp up its focus on the regions ahead of the election and has interest from candidates who could wrest seats from National, leader Winston Peters says.

As recent polls indicate Peters could be king-maker next year the party holds its annual conference in Dunedin this weekend with the theme “it’s time”.

In an interview with the Herald before the conference, Peters said the party would redouble its focus on regional New Zealand to grow its vote.

The 71-year-old has spent less time in Parliament lately in favour of his Northland electorate and the regions, with recent trips to Dunedin, Dannevirke and Kaikohe.

“We are seriously getting around the provinces,” he said. “The Greens can cough and get in the media. We pack halls and don’t. We pack halls in this country like no other political party.”

There has been growing speculation that former Labour MP Shane Jones will leave the diplomatic corps and stand for NZ First in Whangarei against National MP Shane Reti.

Well, at least that is half right.  Shane Jones is expected back, but going up against Shane Reti would be silly. 

[Winston] did not think much of the memorandum of understanding between Labour and the Green Party: “It’s not for me to comment on what their political strategy might be. Suffice to say it’s not a winning one”.

Peters continued his long-standing position of not commenting on possible coalition deals after the election.

Other NZ First MPs are evidently happy with the latest polling – Clayton Mitchell tweeted a link to an opinion piece on a recent Newshub poll with the message, “It’s no longer ‘if’ Peters is kingmaker”.

The king-maker question will almost certainly come up during media interviews over the weekend. But Peters said the party’s focus was instead on growing membership through an expanding number of party offices, and a new online approach to connect directly with voters.

“Will we be ready for [the election’s] ramifications? Of course we will be ready. But we don’t talk about it as a caucus. In fact, I do my best to discourage anybody worrying about where they fit in the day after the election.”

One thing is for sure.  Winston will be back.  What is highly likely:  with a larger party, as a king maker, and in a coalition with National.

 

– Nicholas Jones, NZ Herald


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