Tuesday, 4 July 2017
Elections 2017: Neutralising Winston (Updated)
UPDATE - at the bottom.
I read Phillip Burdon's article about Winston Peters on Stuff this week and realized I may have helped to create a monster.
For well over six months now I have been hammering away at both National and Labour as being past their use date political hacks while continually pointing at Winston's (and NZ Firsts) inevitable position as kingmaker come vote day in September no matter how the stats play out.
And if you're a National or Labour party member that has to be the number one thing on your mind at this time.
Think about it for a moment: here is the grim faced fact that no matter which way you turn, no matter how well you poll the odds are that come September 24 your going to have to pick up the phone and call Winston and cut a deal to form a government whether your are Bill English or Andrew Little.
And we all know how such deals turn out, the track record for Winston's political partners is not good.
Few of those propped up can really say they benefited from having Winston throw them a life line because while in the sheer, short term, desperation of needing to form a government and therefore being willing to lay down with whatever wolf shows up at the door, the idea of working with Winston might make sense (and I say "might").
But in the mid and long term, the view (given the subsequent beatings each party took in the polls after he helped them maintain a third term government) show Winston more as a political opportunist and wastrel (some might say "parasite") that exploits the desperation of the moment to further his own (and not his supporters) ends while leaving a house in disorder.
So while I do think that the Winston Peters/NZ First bandwagon will reap big come election day (although I remain unconvinced that adding Shane Jones to the mix is really a good idea) I think its only fair to discuss any possible ways and means to limit the damage that Winston may do as a means of karmicly balancing my previous vitriol directed at National and Labour.
And the best place to start would be figuring out a way to limit the votes NZ First is going to get come polling day.
One way of doing that would be for either or both parties to run explicitly anti-Winston campaigns (think your usual electoral scare mongering) with ads directly targeting NZ First by playing on the (very possible) fears of what NZ First might entail if it gets a say in any future government rather than bashing each other.
Heck, maybe Labour and National could even join forces (much like the US/UK and USSR joined forces to take down Nazi Germany in WW2 before turning against each other in the Cold War) against the common foe.
Its an improbable scenario but not impossible as neither National or Labour are likely to have forgotten what it was like having to kowtow to Winston in the desperate need to form previous governments and how such grovelling came to end.
Then there is the scandal method with some mud being slung or some lever being pulled (ala US politics with an "official investigation" or "incident") just before polling day to make a dent in his popularity. Although such a thing has the potential to backfire and actually boost him up rather than tear him down.
Unlike Kim Dotcom and his attempts to blast the opposition in 2014, Winston is seasoned and savvy and has rarely been damaged by any scandal for long (the worst being the 2008 funding scandal) so its very possible that any frame up could have blowback rather than taking him down.
A more possible angle could be to exploit the recent appointment of Shane Jones to the party and his previous history (probably to the secret delight of Ron Mark) or simply taking a more methodical approach to slandering the party by breaking down its members and its politics in the media and on the campaign trail.
But again there are problems as this is less about removing voters from the party but more about preventing those in other parties jumping across to the good ship Winston (as Audrey Yong has recently noted) and any attack by the "the Man" on Peters will only accentuate his outsider status, so if such a method was to be used it would have to come from without (such as the Greens or Labour).
All of these methods would have to take place before the election and with time to damage Peters and the party but without enough time for them to recover, it would not be complete Dirty Politics but it would be very close.
The crux on which this argument hangs is the damage Winston would do to both the party and the inevitable coalition government he would help form vrs any benefit to whichever party (because realistically no party is going to factor in any damage to the nation) that formed such a government and such calculations are far too esoteric in so many ways to really compute so its deep dark waters into which any potential Cassandra sails.
Then there is the more possible (but also unlikely)* option of the formation (or strengthening) of political alliances (ala the Greens and Labour) which are often designed to shut out potential rivals by stitching up voter share in particular sectors of the political spectrum.
Could the Labour/Greens alliance hold if Labour made enough on the day to go it alone with NZ First? Its something I speculated about when I was still blogging over at KP and I encourage readers to check it out as the mechanics of the argument then still hold up now.
Or more fantastical, could we see National and Labour try for some broad based government rather than climb into bed with Winston?
Still even more fantastiker, how about a spurned Greens getting revenge on Labour for two-timing it with NZ First by rebounding into an (opposite attract style) relationship with National and forming a government?
No, I suspect that these options are well past any political reality or sanity but in an election where a populist outcome is the worst possible situation for either of the two big mainstream parties perhaps making such moves to head off the FukYoo politix posse at the pass might be a final desperate option to prevent the political Gotterdammerung that a Winston Peters, pulsing vigorously with a angry populist mandate, might enact on them (and the government) if given the chance.
Its the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, a final desperate gamble to stave of an otherwise inevitable outcome and while I think we are in for some rough times ahead give the mood of the country I don't think either Bill or Andrew feels that backed into a corner, yet.
Outside of these pre-election options there is the possibility of doing a deal but seeking to limit the power of Peters post election but again with the populist mood there is a very real danger of a Thersa May/brexit backlash and the chaos and anarchy of a weak minority government and all that such entails.
The only other option is a variation of the pre-election, anti-Peters, coalition which would be to seek a broad, cross party base to build on, which while not to either Labours or Nationals liking would effectively cut Winston out of the process and save on all the damage he could do (if only to open up many other cans of Lumbricus terrestris.
But as I said at the start all of this is pure speculation in the wake of NZ First polling well and the inherent weakness of the other parties (yes including third term National) which have done so much to create the monster that is now threatening to destroy their fragile house of cards.
I end this by saying that while there is nothing conclusive to say that Peters and NZ First would be the worst possible option in helping to create a new government the inherent tensions in NZ politics and the current volatility of the electorate are highly combustible elements and adding a political phoenix like Peters into the mix could have unpredictable results.
What would those results be?
After some consideration this could be our "unpredictable result".
With national at 46%, Labour on 26% and the Greens round 10% that means that even if Labour and the Greens can work together they still need another 10% to get over the line.
And who has that 10%? Winston Peters.
But if that's the case then its not a sellers market for NZ First as National would not need Winston's help to rule and that forces him to go with Labour and the Greens.
This is not the ideal setup for any of the three while National could rule alone or with Maori or ACT as lapdogs.
Winstons power comes from a tight electoral majority and not a big one and if National can hold the line then that's what will happen and NZ First will have its back broken.
This is a scenario I have raised before but as a friend of mine pointed out tonight this drives Winston to either play with Andrew and James or go back out into the cold.
Neither is a good option for Peters and such a menage a trois is almost doomed to fail.
If you think this is an unlikely option go have a look at the latest political polling.
The only scenario where this will not go down bad for NZ First is if Bill English suffers some sort of Thersa May beating and then Winston can name his price.
And even if that happens the situation is either National propped up by Peters or a doomed trio of Peters, Little and Shaw trying desperately to keep it cool while competing forces tear them apart as Peters and Little can go it alone without the Shaw and the Greens.
This is an inevitability short of some major shift in potential election results (Gareth Morgan are you listening?).
So on second thoughts maybe Winston is netralised already.
*-Yes, that's correct.