Whaleoil Transcript: Mike Hosking & Matthew Hooton discuss a Labour & NZ First divorce

Mike Hosking.

Starts at 10:15 finishes at 14:56

Mike

Matthew Hooton has written a good piece in the Herald this morning under the headline “Divorce looms for Labour and NZ First”.  So what he is saying is that Peters’ NZ First needs to cut ties with Labour to survive the next election. He cites the various policy failures that we spent a lot of time on this programme. Things like KiwiBuild for example: he says the bad news will translate toward NZ First but good news, if there is any good news, will go directly to Labour. It’s the classic MMP conundrum, so Peters needs to distance himself from Labour to survive at the next election. So, how’s he going to do that? Matthew Hooton is with us. Good morning.

Matthew

Good morning Mike.

Mike

So, congratulations on the piece, it’s a very good piece and I’ve been thinking about something similar for a while. When you say divorce, is it a divorce or is a potential undermining from NZ First against Labour?

Matthew

No, I am very clear on that. It may not be a divorce, I refer to it more as ‘moving into the spare room’. But NZ First is in a very difficult position. They’re below 5% in the public polls, so I am reliably informed. They are below 5% in all private polls – they’re well below where they were three years ago, so they have to get out of this situation somehow. Two previous examples they’ve had: one is they were loyal to a government, to Helen Clark, that didn’t work; another one was they flounced out, that was with Jenny Shipley, that didn’t work; so, they need to think of a third way.

Mike

So, two things though: they would argue, yes, they are below 5% but they’re always below 5% but, come the election day, they will jump above the 5%; and two – would they be surprised at the position that they are in?

Matthew

Well, that’s not right. They were 10% three years ago, so exactly the same time in the last election cycle they were more than double the support they have now. They always say they come up. They do come up sometimes but it’s not always the case. I think they’re in, you know, a terrible position, because if the government does well, if Jacinda Ardern is successful, she said this year is the year of delivery, if she can show there is more operations in the hospitals, more kids learning things at school, more students in university, better mental health services, she’s able to build more KiwiBuild homes, she’s able to show that and that will be good for Labour, it won’t be good for NZ First. But if things start going badly, NZ First will get the blame. That’s been the case in the past.

Mike

But isn’t that the interesting thing about MMP and this is what makes this thing so fascinating. This is the curse of MMP, there’s not been a minor party ever that’s prospered while in government. Peters must have known that, so did he know it and think he could be different or is he just the same as all the other victims?

Matthew

Well, you are absolutely right. Not a single party that has been in coalition with a larger party under MMP has ever got 5% at the next election and Winston Peters knows that. So, he always known that he is going to have to create distance between him and Labour and it’s just a question of how to do it. As I said, they are not going to flounce out, I’m reliably informed, so it’s not going to be like 1998 and nor are they going to stay loyal to them. They are going to undermine the government from within. We saw a little bit of that, you know Stuart Nash was made a fool of over these fishing cameras. I mean I can’t believe it’s a Labour party policy that there should be CCTV cameras on fishing boats just like there are on meat works and everything else. I can’t believe they are not doing that. That was because Winston Peters insists upon it. Now there is going to be more of that sort of thing and they’re going to make more of it. They are going to try to make Labour look like they are the weak party and NZ First is in control of things because that’s what they think is important to getting back above 5%.

Mike

And then getting back above 5% have they isolated themselves out so much that they could never return to National or National might rule them out therefore they are kind of stuck?

Matthew

Well, Simon Bridges will be having a press conference today, I believe, on various matters, this may well come up, his attitude to NZ First, I imagine he will kick for touch at this point. But for Winston Peters to have any power after the next election and for him to be able to get any National votes at the next election, he needs to get himself in this neutral position. He needs to be able to say to voters “Look, I will go… just because I supported Labour doesn’t mean I won’t change to National after the election. I am genuinely neutral”. Voters have to see that; but more importantly, both Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges have to see that, or whoever the leaders of the National and Labour parties are after the next election. The big two parties have to genuinely believe that he might go either way or else he has no negotiating leverage. I mean, I don’t believe that this is a particularly insightful column, it is informed by talking to people within NZ First party and within the other parties in the government, but it’s not brain…. It’s not rocket science, it’s not brain surgery, it is an obvious feature of MMP that Winston Peters does have to create distance if he wants his party to survive, if he wants to be back again after the next election with either a National or a Labour government.

Mike

Matthew, appreciate your time. Matthew Hooton spends a bit of time in London these days, the article in the Herald website “Divorce looms for Labour and NZ First.”


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