First there was the Deputy leadership coup. Then the comms team in New Zealand First had the gallery churn out puff-pieces about various New Zealand First backbenchers – surely the least newsworthy individuals in Parliament? Yesterday one of their staffers wrote a column about ISIS that ran under Ron Mark’s name in the Herald.
It’s all a bit weird. New Zealand First’s brand is Winston Peters. Why are they diluting it? I have no insights into what’s happening in that party, but my guess is that it is positioning itself for a post-Winston Peters future. Why now? Peters has just won an electorate and he’ll probably have the balance of power after the next election. He has no reason to step down. But people inside his party are behaving as if he might.
Who will replace him? The press gallery have this fantasy that it’ll be Shane Jones. It’s hard for them to trail around behind that great man, sighing wistfully, when his job takes him out of the country most of the time. Imagine if he was back in Wellington and, like, leading a party! That would be the most amazing thing ever!
I’d like to see St Jonesy try and lead a party too, but I can’t see it happening. New Zealand First has been around for over twenty years. It is dominated by Peters but it has a board, staff, MPs, volunteers and donors, all of whom will feel invested in the party they’ve helped build and have ideas about its future. Parachuting in a guy who isn’t even a member and unilaterally making him leader would tear it apart. If Peters steps down before the election then there might not even be a legal way to make that happen.
It’s going to be Ron Mark. But really, speculating about the next leader of New Zealand First is like wondering who’ll take over as lead singer of the Rolling Stones after Mick steps down. A party lead by Mark will not win 5% of the vote. He could conceivably win Wairarapa against its very unpopular National MP and bring some MPs in on the electorate seat loophole. Or St Jonesy could stand in Northland and do a deal with National. Many things are possible if/when Peters goes, but the most likely, I think, is that his party will fail to return to Parliament. With the destruction of the Conservative Party and availability of 200,000 New Zealand First voters our politics could get very unpredictable.