Sunday, August 23, 2015

Winston Peters for Prime Minister?

Well this is interesting, isn't it.

On yesterday's The Nation program, embattled Labour leader Andrew Little was forced into the revealing position of refusing to rule out the next Labour government being lead by none other than Winston Peters.

Say what?

No, that's not a typo - or some wild-eyed frenzied supporter's fulsome flight of fancy.

Little was repeatedly asked by TV3's Lisa Owen about how Labour would possibly be able to govern without New Zealand First. And the best he could come up with was by pointing out that the Labour Party can sometimes work with National when it wants to get legislation through the House without relying upon NZ First and/or The Greens.

Wow. What a position of strength for what's supposed to be the nation's leading Opposition party - having to rely upon your positive working relationship with THE GOVERNMENT in order to fend off suggestions that somebody else ought to be in the driver's chair.

Still, as this week's Roy Morgan polling seems to strongly suggest ... relying upon smaller support parties is about all Labour's got left. They're shrinking, the Greens are shrinking (albeit at a much slower rate) - only New Zealand First and National appear to be making any great gains.

There are three serious questions churning at the core of New Zealand Politics right now.

The first one is whether, over the long arc of the electoral cycle, Labour is losing ground - or, for that matter, treading water - at a rate faster or slower than National is (re-)gaining it.

Next, what's happening with the support parties. In specia, if The Greens have genuinely topped out - or whether Shaw can bring in those treasured middle-class urban votes (preferably without alienating much of their already-extant support base); and perhaps more importantly - how far further up in the polls New Zealand First's star can rise.

As a result of putting i) and ii) together, we wind up with iii): what sort of hypothetical post-Election governing arrangements are actually viable enough to be worth talking about in the first place.

As usual, only one man can answer that third question.

And if even he knows yet, I doubt he'll be telling.

But two things seem certain.

First up, that Labour's days as the axiomatic center-of-gravity of Opposition (or, indeed, left-wing) politics are some distance behind it. They may have the numbers in the House at present to be regarded as the Opposition's center of mass, but in terms of political dynamism or ability to inspire and capture the electorate - they seem to merely be so much dead weight.

And second ... however you choose to slice it, New Zealand First is increasingly central to our politics and our Parliament. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about opposition to the TPPA, or who's likely to be the fulcrum around which post-2017 governance turns. We're there, at the heart of it all.

Now some might say that The Greens are well positioned to play an equally important role in any hypothetical future non-National government. And that's certainly one of the reasons why I, personally, advocate the #BlackGreen2017 anti-neoliberal coalition option.

But despite the fact they're still a skerrick ahead of us in the polls at the moment - they aren't gaining ground nearly as fast as we are. In fact, if anything, they're arguably either static or losing it.

More to the point - when The Greens demanded the Finance Minister's portfolio and suggested a dual-occupied Deputy Prime Ministership to Labour in the run-up to the last Election ... Labour balked, and said "No Deal".

Now, less than twelve months later, the man who said Winston was too old to take Northland (and look how that worked out) is having to fairly openly contemplate the proposition that Winston Peters will in fact be leading the next Labour government.

Considering Winston's recent eclipse of Little in the Preferred Prime Ministership stakes, I can hardly say I'm surprised.

Maybe Ron Mark's prediction of Darroch Ball as a future Defence Minister, will be coming true *far* sooner than any of us anticipated.

In any case, voters are right now flocking to New Zealand First by the bushel for two simple reasons:

First, because they respect and admire our principles. They know that we have New Zealand's best interests at heart. It's right there in our name.

And second, because right now we are the Party of success. We haven't just increased our Caucus size by 50%. We've won one of the safest National seats in the country. We've fundamentally changed the way New Zealand Politics looks at the Regions. And we're right now engaged in the process of building a Nationwide movement to deliver change.

Ordinary New Zealanders from right across the country see that - and they want in.

Yesterday's concession of weakness by Andrew Little is also a towering admission of strength for New Zealand First.

Coupled with another few positive poll results - and our continuing stellar performance in the House - and there'll soon be no doubt in anyone's mind that New Zealand First is well on its way to becoming the preeminent Second Party in New Zealand's political arena.

However you choose to look at it, government in the post-2017 strategic environment looks set to be a very much more egalitarian affair indeed.

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