For two years, the average of polls has shown that if Winston Peters’ NZ First misses out on 5%, Mr Key will be re-elected. If NZ First gets to 5%, Mr Peters chooses the prime minister.
Increasingly, Mr Peters is tilting toward Labour.
While John Armstrong writes that Labour’s positioning with the Greens is dictated by their relationship with New Zealand First:
Key likes to wind Peters up; Cunliffe risks looking like he is being cowered by the veteran politician.
Labour’s pursuit of power dictates, however, that Labour be hostage to Peters for the next five months despite knowing such obedience will not make even the tiniest bit of difference as to whether he ultimately favours the centre-right or centre-left.
And Martyn Bradbury also comments on this dynamic:
Cunliffe can only become PM by unifying the opposition and the Greens are a major part of that opposition and right now they need to be working out how best to approach Winston so that they can uphold their side of the responsibilities of being such a major part of that opposition.
There is a Government in waiting, Cunliffe has identified it, now the leaders of the opposition have to lead and forge dialogue between one another or John Key gets a third term and we all end up sitting on our hands for another 3 years.
It’s conventional wisdom among political pundits that Winston Peters is impossible to predict. ‘He’s too wily! You never know which way Winston’s gonna go!’ But Peters political strategy is actually orthodox and entirely predictable.
Consider the 1996 election campaign. Peters campaigned against the incumbent National government and indicated that he would go into coalition with Labour and ‘keep them honest’. After the election he formed a coalition with National and became Bolger’s Finance Minister and Deputy PM. In 2005 when Peters was again in the position of kingmaker he campaigned against the Clark Labour government and promised his voters that he would not form a coalition with either Labour or National because ‘he did not seek the baubles of power’. After the election he went into coalition with Labour negotiating a position as Clark’s Foreign Minister.
Nothing Peters says prior to the election has any bearing on what he’ll do after the election. All statements made before the election are about maximising his vote. Nothing more. After the election he’ll seek whatever outcome benefits him personally. If anyone questions him about his pre-election promises he’ll roar with fury that he never said any such thing.
So if Peters is moving closer to Labour that doesn’t mean he’s favoring a coalition with Labour. It doesn’t mean he wants to get rid of John Key. It doesn’t – as poor old Bomber thinks – mean that Winston is ‘uniting behind David Cunliffe as the leader of the left’. What it means is that Peters thinks there’s votes there, and as usual when it comes to political strategy Winston Peters is right. He’s picked up about 50,000 votes off Labour in the last few months.
Obviously Peters needs to be able to pretend he’ll go into coalition with Labour – that strengthens his bargaining power with National. But Peters will want a stable government that can guarantee him his knighthood and posting to either London or Washington at the end of it all, and no hybrid of Cunliffe-led Labour-NZ First-Greens government will deliver that to him.