Tuesday 6 August 2019

Endgame: Will Winston Peters Blow Up The Coalition Over Ihumatao?

Blowing-Up The House: Is Winston Peters planning to put himself at the head of all those New Zealanders who refuse to countenance the Coalition Government caving-in to the Ihumatao protesters? The most effective way of doing this would be to issue Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with an ultimatum. If she refuses to uphold the legal agreement between the officially recognised mana whenua of Ihumatao and Fletchers, then NZ First will be obliged to withdraw from its coalition agreement with Labour.

IS WINSTON PETERS planning to blow up the Coalition Government over Ihumatao? Sean Plunket has been reporting and analysing New Zealand politics for a long time, and he thinks that Winston might be getting ready to do just that. Certainly, the last few days have witnessed Peters and NZ First’s prolix bovver-boy, Shane Jones, heaping plenty of disparagement upon the Ihumatao protesters. While his leader dismissed the protesters as “outsiders”, Jones drew the voters’ attention to their politically disqualifying “yoga pants”. These are not the sort of comments calculated to facilitate an equitable solution to the Ihumatao problem.

Why would Peters want to blow up the government he helped to forge? The bleedingly, bloody obvious answer is that NZ First’s ongoing participation in the Coalition is causing it to haemorrhage voter support. The party is already well below the 5 percent MMP threshold, and Labour has yet to gift NZ First an electorate seat lifeboat of the sort Act’s David Seymour received from National in Epsom.

Without that insurance policy against continuing sub-5 percent poll numbers, Peters and his party are acutely vulnerable. All Simon Bridges has to do is let the clock run out on the 2020 General Election and then announce that National has ruled-out NZ First as a potential coalition partner. What’s left of Peters support would instantly defect to Labour for fear of seeing their votes ending-up in National’s column. Game over.

Or, Peters could put himself at the head of all those New Zealanders who refuse to countenance the Coalition Government caving-in to the Ihumatao protesters. The most effective way of doing this would be to issue Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with an ultimatum. If she refuses to uphold the legal agreement between the officially recognised mana whenua of Ihumatao and Fletchers, then NZ First will be obliged to withdraw from its coalition agreement with Labour.

That would put Jacinda in a hell of a fix.

Accepting Peters’ uncompromising position on Ihumatao would require the Coalition to clear the occupation site of protesters. Undoubtedly, there would be an electoral upside to such an unequivocal demonstration of state power. NZ First would benefit enormously, quite possibly to the extent of drawing back some of those who defected from the party after Peters threw in his lot with Labour.

They would not be the only ones, however. Labour, too, would benefit: strengthening its grip on traditional Pakeha supporters – just as it did when Helen Clark overturned the Court of Appeal’s judgement on the ownership of the foreshore and seabed. Whether that would be enough to offset the almost certain loss of the Maori seats, and the absolutely certain defection of young, progressive voters to the Greens is much less certain.

All up, however, the Peters option would introduce a level of ideological tension into the Coalition that would render it even more dysfunctional than it is at present. It would also place Jacinda in the same prime-ministerial club as Bill Massey, Syd Holland and Rob Muldoon. Rather than her legacy being one of kindness and compassion, she would be remembered as the Labour Prime Minister who laid waste Ihumatao’s occupation camp and arrested its protectors. Like Massey’s Cossacks, the 1951 Lockout, Bastion Point and the 1981 Springbok Tour, the name “Ihumatao” would find its place in the New Zealand lexicon of political infamy – alongside “Ardern”.

Rather than accept such a grim legacy, Jacinda would, almost certainly, ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call a new election.

The sharp political polarisation that would, inevitably, follow such a dramatic move would leave little room for Peters and his party. Unless he was able to strike a deal with Simon Bridges and secure for himself, or Shane Jones, the seat of Northland, NZ First would be out of Parliament.

Labour’s survival would necessitate a decisive shift to the left. An electorate deal with the Greens in Wellington Central would also be required. Freed at last from NZ First’s right-wing shackles, Jacinda could go to the country with the promise of a genuinely progressive government. The slogan – “Let’s do this properly!” – springs to mind.

The outcome of the election would likely be decided by the size of the voter turnout. If Labour and the Greens were able to successfully cast the contest as a battle between the racism and selfishness of the old versus the diversity and generosity of the young – and then persuade the young to get out and vote – who knows, they just might win.

Or, as Sean Plunket would no doubt call the result: “Middle New Zealand” buries Jacinda and her woke army of “progressives” beneath a landslide of Te Riri Pakeha – the white man’s anger. In the final scene, Simon Bridges and Winston Peters (or is that Shane Jones?) appear in silhouette atop the wreckage: shaking hands as the sun sets on Labour’s, the Greens’ – and Ihumatao’s – shattered dreams.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 2 August 2019.

POSTSCRIPT: On the evening of Monday, 5 August 2019, at about the time a sudden influx of Police arrived at the Ihumatao protest site, Shane Jones appeared on TVNZ’s Q+A programme. His comments regarding the land occupation were nothing short of inflammatory. Had the protest leader, Pania Newton, not prevailed upon her followers to remain calm and honour their commitment to non-violence, the situation might have turned very ugly indeed. If Winston Peters does not want the perception that something very ugly is afoot within NZ First to grow, then he needs to attach a short, but very strong, chain to the collar of his principal attack-dog. Lest Shane Jones sink his teeth into persons much closer to home. – C.T.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Jacinda could go to the country with the promise of a genuinely progressive government."

That is not going to happen. These days progressive only means socially progressive. So we might get a reform of the abortion laws, but it seems to me that just about every party these days has simply rolled over and accepted neoliberal ideology. It would be interesting to know but I can't be arsed looking it up how many Labour MPs have ever done a "real" job. How many of them have ever suffered from hunger, low pay, his poor working conditions. How many of them have ever had to fight for a decent life? They're just as much much alienated from working-class people as National MPs. I'm sure they sort of understand it intellectually, but they've never lived it so they haven't absorbed it. I'm sure that most of my very nice people and all, and they want to do well, but they have as much idea about the average working-class person's problems as Donald Trump (well maybe a bit more than him.) But they're clinging to this neoliberal straitjacket. What we really need is a comprehensive look into the power relationships between capital and labour which have been overly skewed towards capital since the 1980s. And then, if they have the guts which they don't, we could see some action.

Shane McDowall said...

I have just watched Shane Jones on Q&A talking about Ihumatao.

He said the matter is Tainui business, and that housing is more important than faux wahi tapu.

What is so inflammatory about that?

Has it occurred to anyone that SOUL has shadowy figures behind it who want a protracted dispute?

Ihumatao is a matter for Tainui to sort out themselves. The government and the freedom campers should mind their own business.

Winston Peters is not going to commit political hari-kari over a cow paddock in Auckland.

Political commentators have been predicting the demise of New Zealand First about five minutes after the party was formed.

Anyone who thinks polls taken over a year before the next election count for anything should start reading chicken entrails to discern the future.

Wayne Mapp said...

I don't agree with your analysis. Winston doesn't want to wreck the government. He wants to bend it. That doesn't require a scorched earth victory. Something more modest will do. So a tripartite solution of Ihumatao will be enough, something that still allows Fletchers to have some form of development, though not of the scale currently proposed.

Winston will then use this, and a series of other things (CGT, Three Strikes, etc) to show he is the moderating brake on the government. Come the election, this argument will have a lot of force. Winston has a lot of skill in how to project that during an election campaign.

A large part of the NZF supports sits in that space as seeing Winston as their protector. They are not automatically either Labour or National supporters. Probably somewhere between 3 and 7 % of the electorate are natural NZ First supporters, depending on the polling. To do better than that he has to get voters who come from Labour or National. Probably some on the right of Labour and some from the populist part of National.

The Labour and Green parts of government are providing quite a lot of things for Winston to fill that space. It will have more power if National does not look like they could form a government. In that case Winston will pick up some the populist National voters who will see Winston as their protector.

pat said...

Is he going to blow up the coalition?....suspect hes readying himself for an election at any time and if it comes sooner rather than later he wont mind...every position Winston takes is for the benefit of Winston

peteswriteplace said...

Bull Chris.

Odysseus said...

This is a Tainui issue and it needs to be sorted out by them. Those "progressive" opportunists who have attached themselves need to be told to take their miscellaneous causes somewhere else. The government too should pack its tent and take stock. Any temptation to reopen the Treaty settlement process could result in anarchy.

Kat said...

This the problem a lot of commentators seem to have when a govt is stable and getting on with doing the job, controversy has to be invented. I am surprised you have lowered your standards to 'shock jock' level Chris.

Anonymous said...

No-one really cares about Ihumatao. It's a media beat up with the flames fanned by the political class. Whether it ends up being a park or a development just doesn't affect most New Zealanders. So far all sides have behaved themselves and it's followed the norms of protest in a democratic country. There's basically nothing disturbing about it, unlike the CCP thugs beating up women at Auckland University.

NZF will be fine. They always campaign well and the people who voted for them last time should be pleased with their performance in government. Same goes for the Greens. Both have done better than Labour.

Charles E said...

I've just returned from a holiday with a couple of guys who I assumed would only ever vote National, and they said (quietly) they are going to vote Winston First. What I said? Yes really and it is exactly because they think he will go with Labour again, and continue his 'great job' of lefty hand break, more than blocking out the awful Greens. Polls probably do not show this because no National man would normally confess support for bloody Winston to strangers. Yet in the quiet privacy of the polling both …..
These fools see him as Centre, whereas I see him as right of National. Alt-Right even.
I am interested to dwell on what GS points out, that what was formerly regarded as true Labour is no longer representative of the working class. I'd go further and suggest these days 'workers' often support National because at least they show respect for the hard working battler. Perhaps if they still have jobs come the next election, more of the 'working poor' will quietly vote National on the day. Especially if Labour get further mired in Maori messes, identity politics and other trendy irrelevancies...

John Hurley said...

Leighton Smith [37:00]
Now you've said something that I find interesting. There is much being written about generational change and I mean across societies around the world and the Western world in particular. Inter generational change and the young coming on and replacing the old – introducing new attitudes etc and I'm wondering if this is not part of that then?

Michael Bassett
Oh I think it is. I don't think there's any doubt about it. But as each generation comes along it is not for them to prize open what are full and final settlements and to play merry hell with the taxpayers money.

Leighton Smith
Well can I disagree with that ever so slightly. You say it is not their right to do so but it is there opportunity and whether it it their rights are recognised depends on those who are manning the fort.
And whether those are weak willed and incapable – and I'm seeing a bit of that at the moment- then why wouldn't you have a go?

Michael Bassett
I remember a discussion with Helen Clark years ago and her saying that she expected that there would be a lot of full and final settlements that would have to be broken and renegotiated. Well I wish that governments would come out and say that openly to the public because it would all together alter the way people think of the settlement process.

Do gooders naively think that if we express concern and virtue (a la Jim Bolger and Gareth Morgan) Maori will settle for say 20% [?] Tariana Turia said her tribes settlements equal 1.5% of what was taken. People on the left think culture will suffice for the hard universal stuff (resources and status). From 1840 there has been dishonesty which is biting us on the bum, we need to show our true hands. If "all the land was stolen" or "most of it or some of it" or was sold too cheaply then lets not be vague about it?

John Hurley said...

Listening to media gatekeeper Kim Hill yesterday. She had a professor on who attributes the rise of authoritarianism around the world to inequality. He says it will last a long time (nominally 30 years). He said that the authoritarians had dragged cultural issues onto these economic issues (water is thicker than blood as the old saying doesn't go).
Kim finishes by (jokingly) asking if it is just good luck or good management that we haven't had an populist/authoritarian here. She later dawdles her way through listener feedback ignoring any on the professor's opinion.
Eric Kaufmann impressed Tyler Cowen and others (the Australian) but got savaged by the unassailable pure at heart "anti-racist" Twitterati. We won't hear his views on RNZ, however because it wouldn't do to know that it was not economics that motivated Trump and Brexit voters but something closer to human nature and that he believes aggrieved whites do have a case.
That's why Winston was attacked by the "alt-right" over the message of the UN migration pact and I think he is beginning to realise that his supporters weren't elderly people in community halls (only) but young whites who question why they should welcome becoming minorities in a big liberal experiment - which liberals will likely loose control of anyway?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jesus. I thought Bassett must be dead by now. Last time I saw him, which must be at least 10 years ago he did not look good. Still a spiteful wee bastard I see.

Anonymous said...

"We keep pretending that the political spectrum runs from right to left. It doesn't. It runs from top to bottom" Mollie Ivins