Will this week be Winston’s finest hour?

by Cameron Slater on October 9, 2017 at 8:30am

Matthew Hooton thinks it is Winston’s turn to shine:

Now, 21 years since he last held the balance of power in 1996, Mr Peters has one last chance to make the whole saga worthwhile and finally deliver the more activist economic policy, the more traditionalist foreign policy and the more conservative social policy that he has been promising all these years.

As detailed on the opposite page, Mr Peters has the Greens to thank for once again gifting him ultimate power to decide the next prime minister. If, to use Rob Hosking’s word, the Greens been less kindergartenish earlier this week, it could have been them not Mr Peters currently playing Jacinda Ardern and Bill English off against one another for policy wins.   

The Greens’ decision not to step forward has real consequences, ecologically and socially. Money which Ms Ardern or Mr English might otherwise have been forced to spend on cleaning rivers, battling climate change or feeding hungry children is now more likely to be invested in new indulgences for Baby Boomers.

Leader James Shaw is almost certainly right that he could never have won support for a National-Green coalition from 75% of his party’s mainly swivel-eyed activists. But what does it say about their integrity that they prefer to grant total power to Mr Peters rather than have Ms Shaw so much as send a text message to Mr English asking what might be on offer?

If, from a Green perspective, New Zealand becomes a more xenophobic, more racist and less tolerant place over the next three years, it will be the Greens’ own decisions this week to hand total power to Mr Peters that will be responsible.

Moreover, if Mr Peters’ experience is anything to go by, it could be 21 years before the Greens again have the opportunity to exercise the balance of power themselves.

The Green party is separated into three factions. MPs, activists/Members and voters. There is minimal overlap between those three groups.

Still, Mr Peters may surprise his critics and it is in his interests to do so.

When he reveals his choice for prime minister, the whole fury and might of the party spurned shall be turned on him. If he is to stand up to it, the deal he reaches with Mr English or Ms Ardern – even if it is to sit on the crossbenches – must be comprehensive, robust and based on a genuine commitment by both sides to make it work.

If, instead, the deal is loose, it will presage game playing by less loyal MPs across the parties, drift and decay, and ultimately the premature collapse of the government.

Assuming Mr Peters is serious about all he has said since first rising to prominence in the mid-1980s as a critic of the Lange-Douglas and then Bolger-Richardson reforms, his demand for more activist economic management must involve much more than a further extension of Steven Joyce and Simon Bridges’ MBIE circus and corrupt corporate welfare machine.

There are very good arguments, for example, for the Reserve Bank to focus solely on price stability and even better ones for it to operate completely independently of politicians. Mr Peters must prevail that it is also not unheard of internationally for central banks to have wider goals or to work in closer partnership with their political masters.

Similarly, much greater hurdles for immigrants and investors – even near insurmountable ones in the case of land – are hardly unusual internationally.

Mr Peters’ plan to reinstate a Forestry Service will be mocked as left wing but it is not radically different from a comprehensive proposal put by Graeme Hart to Sir John Key in 2009, facilitated by my firm, to plant one million hectares of marginal land with a mix of native and exotic forest. Both New Zealand’s net carbon emissions and unemployment rate would be lower had Sir John kept his word to Mr Hart to have his government seriously consider it rather than defer to Nick Smith’s hallucinations that emissions trading schemes were set to be adopted globally at that year’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Mr Peters’ Northport and Marsden Point rail plan, dubbed “Stalinist nonsense” by Road Transport Forum chief executive and former Act MP Ken Shirley, would delight many Aucklanders. But, more importantly for Mr Peters, it is key to unlocking the economic potential of the north.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions can be seen as overreach by globalisation advocates and, unlike the WTO’s dispute settlement procedures, an affront to sovereign governments, while Mr Peters is surely right to target the UK and other Commonwealth countries for trade deals in the context of Brexit.

A case can be made that after the divisive child discipline and marriage equality debates, a cup of tea on further social reform is in order. While Mr Peters would surely not want to unravel the settlement of historic Treaty of Waitangi claims, he is not wrong that the iwi elite is out of touch with the people it claims to represent and that so-called contemporary Treaty claims could do with a check.

If Mr Peters can finally bear himself to his duties and deliver, then – perhaps not in 1000 years but certainly 100 – historians will still say this was his finest hour.

Winston Peters has everything to gain and everything to lose right now.

If he takes down another third (fourth) term government his brand and legacy will become toxic.

However if he goes with National and offers up bold policy where the National party has none he could do very well.

Winston Peters leading Jacinda Ardern by the nose may be fun for the left wing for a couple of months, but runs the risk of Jacinda Ardern being PM in name only. While she will be having conversations Winston Peters will be a man of action.

Winston needs a legacy…he has to play sensibly.