Winston Peters PM? Assuming that NZ First’s support sits at around 10 percent at the outset of the 2017 election campaign, its election-night Party Vote could conceivably rise to around 20 percent. If half of those extra votes came from National, and half from Labour, then it’s entirely possible that Labour’s Party Vote could fall below 20 percent. That would make Winston Peters – not Andrew Little – the next political leader on the Governor-General’s calling list in the event that John Key proves unable assemble a parliamentary majority.
NOT JUST THE KINGMAKER – but the King. That’s the most likely outcome if Winston Peters doubles NZ First’s support during the 2017 election campaign – as he did in 2014.
Such an outcome would herald a revolution in New Zealand’s electoral politics. Not only because a minor party would have usurped the position of a major party in a general election – something which hasn’t happened since the 1930s – but because it would also represent a catastrophic defeat for New Zealand’s ruling elites.
Assuming that NZ First’s support sits at around 10 percent at the outset of the 2017 election campaign, its election-night Party Vote could conceivably rise to around 20 percent. If half of those extra votes came from National, and half from Labour, then it’s entirely possible that Labour’s Party Vote could fall below 20 percent. That would make Winston Peters – not Andrew Little – the next political leader on the Governor-General’s calling list in the event that John Key proves unable assemble a parliamentary majority.
Should this eventuate, the task confronting Mr Peters would be hugely challenging. His party could only have been lifted into leadership contention on a surging wave of populist anger. Mr Peters could hardly fail to recognise the parallels with 1996. Twenty-one years ago, his decision to throw in his lot with National nearly destroyed NZ First. How likely is it that he would risk a similar outcome in 2017?
That would leave Labour, the Greens, and very possibly the Maori Party holding the seats necessary to form a government.
Who would Mr Peters call first? Probably the leader of the Labour Party. But who would that be? Almost certainly not Mr Little. Having so thoroughly humiliated his party, the chances are high that Mr Little would have resigned the leadership on Election Night. That would have forced his caucus colleagues to petition Labour’s governing council for the right to elect a temporary leader – someone to conduct negotiations with the other parties. Who would that leader be? Grant Robertson? Phil Twyford? David Parker? Whoever it was, he would not be holding a winning hand.
Who would Mr Peters talk to next?
If Labour’s support was seen to crumble during the election campaign, many of its more left-wing supporters, disillusioned and demoralised, would have deserted the party for the Greens. Depending on the scale of that desertion: trickle or flood; the Greens’ Party Vote could easily have risen to roughly equal that of Labour’s. The negotiations between Mr Peters and the Greens’ co-leaders, Metiria Turei and James Shaw, would not be short or easy. To whom, for example, should Mr Peters offer the Deputy-Prime Minister’s post? A Labour MP or a Green?
And what about the Maori Party? With Labour’s support crumbling across-the-board, the chances of a Maori-Mana clean sweep of the Maori seats would be high. But, with the memories of what happened the last time there was a clean sweep of the Maori seats at the front of his mind, how keen would Mr Peters be to include Maori-Mana in his government? (Especially a Maori-Mana Party presided over by his old foe Tukuorangi Morgan?)
How easy would it be to keep all these parties headed in the same direction? How long could such a coalition hold together?
Mr Peters would not be the only one pondering these questions. Nearly all of the news media would be urging him to maintain the economic and political stability of the nation by throwing in his lot with the party which, though badly mauled, still controlled the largest number of seats in the House of Representatives. Editors up and down the country would be urging Mr Peters to recognise National’s “moral mandate” to govern.
There would, of course, be a price which National would have to pay in order to retain the Treasury Benches. Mr Peters’ ancestors would have called it “utu” – revenge – for the humiliations of 2008. In return for NZ First’s 25 seats, National would have to surrender up the heads of Mr Key and Steven Joyce – the “hit-men” of 2008. And, in recognition of NZ First’s role in seismically shifting the tectonic plates of New Zealand’s policy environment, the National caucus would also have to agree to its leader, Winston Peters, becoming the 39th Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Not just the Kingmaker – but the King.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 September 2016.