Tuesday 26 September 2017

WHAT IF? Some Random Thoughts About The Next Three Weeks.

The Ultimate Dirty Deal: When Hitler and Stalin - mortal ideological enemies - concluded their mutual non-aggression pact in 1939, the world stood aghast. Why did no one see it coming? Fundamentally, it came down to a lack of imagination. Being able to think the unthinkable is a rare talent in politics - but an extremely valuable one. Something to keep in mind over the next three weeks.

WHAT IF, three weeks from today, National decides that an acceptable deal with NZ First just isn’t on “the cards that count”? What if the easy assumptions of Election Night: that Winston Peters will recognise the futility of attempting to build a coalition with anyone other than National; have long since proved vain? What if it only takes a few days for National’s negotiators to realise that, in the 21 years since 1996, NZ First had matured into a political party with a mind of its own?

What if it turns out that Peters’ views, although taken extremely seriously by his party colleagues, no longer enjoy the status of Holy Writ? What if National’s negotiators discover that NZ First’s policies are actually a great deal more than mere rhetorical flourishes? What if NZ First’s manifesto is expected to be treated as a serious proposition by both National and Labour? What if, when English’s negotiating team are caught rolling their eyes and smothering guffaws, the atmosphere drops rapidly from cool to effing freezing? What if the prospects of a deal with NZ First – a deal which National’s caucus, members and supporters, the markets, and New Zealand’s major trading partners, can all live with – dwindle?

What if, three weeks from today, NZ First’s parallel negotiations with Labour are going gang-busters? What if the Wellington beltway’s confident prediction that Peters and Jacinda Ardern would not hit it off proves to be wildly inaccurate? What if a shared liking for single malt whiskey breaks the ice between the two leaders and the talk flows freely? What if Ardern’s rural upbringing has equipped her with a set of core values remarkably congruent with Peters’ own? What if both leaders evince a strong sense of patriotic duty which, in turn, imbues their respective negotiating teams with the feeling that they are but two halves of a single mission?

What if the broad policy over-lap of NZ First and Labour only makes matters easier? What if, on immigration there is particularly strong agreement? What if, in the midst of their discussions on this subject, both negotiating teams come face-to-face with their strong negative feelings – bordering on complete aversion – to the Greens and their policies? What if, reported back to their respective leaders, these reservations progress quickly to a top-level conversation that edges, inexorably, towards the conclusion that if an agreement is to be concluded between NZ First and Labour, then the only role for the Greens will be to supply the votes necessary to carry confidence and supply motions?

WHAT IF, three weeks from today, a transcript of this conversation between Peters and Ardern is placed in the hands of the Caretaker Prime Minister by an employee of the Security Intelligence Service? What if English, reassured that the information had been collected in accordance with the “activities which impact adversely on New Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being” clause of the SIS Act, calls the Greens’ leader, James Shaw, to a clandestine meeting where he invites him to listen to the relevant fragments of the secretly recorded conversation between Ardern and Peters?

What if, putting to one side the morality and legality of the recording, Shaw demands to know from English why he is being allowed to listen to it? What if English then briefs him on the difficulties his own party is having negotiating with NZ First, and on the sheer size of the dead rats NZ First is expecting National to swallow in order to secure the right to govern. What if, being asked again by Shaw to explain why he is being told all this, English takes a deep breath and invites the Green Party leader to set forth the conditions under which he would be willing to ask his party to vote on whether or not to enter into a formal coalition agreement with the National Party?

What if Shaw laughs out loud, declaring that the very notion of such an arrangement would send the farmers into paroxysms of rage and split the National Party asunder? What if English agrees that a split would be inevitable, but then asks Shaw to consider whether that would be such a bad thing? What if English suggests that a “country party” would not only provide National with a permanent coalition partner, but would also draw support away from NZ First? What if English went on to suggest that, with the Greens anchoring a much more moderate National Party in the centre of the political spectrum, the ecological policies so dear to his heart would have a much better chance of being enacted? What if he then pointed out that, if the Greens came to feel that National was insufficiently attentive to the needs of the planet, they could always turn to Labour?

What if Shaw objected that the very idea of negotiating with National would almost certainly cost him his job, and that the Green Party would never let him do it. What if English responded by asking Shaw if his party would still feel so adamant about keeping National at arm’s length if its members were made aware of what their supposed friends in the Labour Party and NZ First really thought of them? What if he asked Shaw to weigh-up whether or not the Greens really would walk away from a genuine Government offer to get serious about Climate Change, poverty and swimmable rivers?

WHAT IF, three weeks from today, Bill English asks James Shaw if he has ever heard of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact? 

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 26 September 2017.


Anonymous said...

Too many if's.

pat said...

what if the second coming of Christ occurs beforehand?

Polly said...

Well done with this article,
Winnie Peters is already acting the clown about our future government, I am picking the whole thing to take months rather than a few days or weeks to form a government,
Please do not act the cunt to the other 92% of NZ'rs who did NOT vote for you.
Please be a man and not act like a big kid with long trousers on.
Grow up.

National and Labour should have a chat to see if THEY could form a government, a massive majority of the 92% would cheer that situation.

Susie said...

Chris, some things have to be said, so here are a few that do.

I appreciate your work enormously, your take on events resonates entirely, your points are salient and brilliant, your referencing of political history is marvellously educational and you write beautifully. I follow your blog devotedly, but have never said so.

I think people need to be told such things in these trying times.

Please thrive and prosper.

Warm wishes

Michael Wynd said...

So if this does work out and we have the equivalent of the 1939 Pact, where does this leave the Greens and the hard left of Labour? Will they be like the socialists and communists of 1939-1941 who were against the war against Germany only to switch after Op BARBAROSSA was launched in June 1941? How long could Labour keep their members happy with a NZ First deal with Winston's outbursts? Sounds like a good idea Chris, but there are too many moving parts. Whatever happens, the Greens are not going to win anything from either side. You're right that working with National could hopefully achieve some environmental goals but they are too full of pride to make that compromise.

mikesh said...

What if NZ1st, not liking either, decides instead to offer support on C&S, probably to Labour.

Just "thinking the unthinkable".

greywarbler said...

It occurred to me some time ago that 'if' was a powerful little two-letter word. You have joined up with another to make 'what if' which is set to be a vibrant heading to pages of brainstorming by tablefuls of people who have active minds with a practical as well as idealistic bent, ranging from ages 16 to 96. After a brief time to expound, there would be a number of promising threads to follow.

But that sprite word 'if' is promiscuous. It can go off with other words down dark, blind and eventually sorrowful alleys. And we then couple it in 'If Only'.

Kat said...

What if James Shaw looks to history and knowing how Hitler ended that pact through operation Barbarossa turns to Bill English and tells him to find another Stalin.

What if Winston Peters knows his history and tells Bill English he ain't no Neville Chamberlain and he ain't going back to the people of NZ with a letter declaring coalition peace in our time.

What if Jacinda just bides her time...................

Chris said...

No. The Greens going into government with National would destroy the Greens, and Shaw knows it.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Mr Trotter, you've been reading my blog!


Essentially I agree with you. Scientists at Scott Base, without the aid of electronic communication, would be able to hear Peters spewing.

greywarbler said...

What if in an act of supreme sacrifice, knowing the seriousness of the position, the Greens did take the risk of going in with National and being cannibalised and fighting like hell to get things done and achieving good.
All this waitin' and anticipatin' makes us droopy. While we can still walk and climb without zimmerframes, let's think about not being cautious and be bloody brave and bold. So if Labour mucks around too much, if NZF demand too much and equivocate, then Greens could go for a place in cabinet I think that would be a prerequisite to getting power to do some real stuff, and the unthinkable could be done, and continue on like that.

"Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve." - Napoleon Hill He had a great name didn't he, and achieved success and money I think, in his field. What if we believed his homily and got on with it!

Robert M said...

Was there any real difference between Berlin and Hamburg and Moscow and St Petersburg in 1939 they were after all, essentially both military dictatorships with rather similar ideas of National Socialism ( both Hitler and Stalin thought so despite the Nationalistic hatred of each of them for the other). Utopian communism had been abandoned by Stalin in 1928 and 1929 as unlikely to produce a powerful state or military and in its educational reforms and ideas of raising the industrial proletariat into intelligent masters of the universal a dreadful failure. AS far as possible the middle class would have to be returned to the teachers and university positions control of the military. Despite the purges and coups in both nations that followed in 1943 they were both on the same trajectory the White Russian and Prussian militarists leading the respective sides having created largely indistinguishable commands and structures.
The differences between the Nationals and Greens are not just tribal (the distance from Oxbridge, Calstate and New Haven to Winton, Te Puke and Geraldine is rather more total)- and not about different coloured battlecruisers in the bath or uniforms- the Greens don't care if there black or green, they neither want them or the idea or the world they represent) The Greens and National inhabit different planets. Part of the reason the Greens are not a particulary an environmental party is that the Greens live in Auckland and Wellington and there arent many cows in Queens st or Willis st and the electric rail systems don't extend to 50 miles out where the cows start let alone the South Canterbury, Southland and Taranaki dairy farming concentrations where the greatest vote for the Nationals occur.
There are other factors the Greens do not realise just how limited NZ Railway, Health and Psych services are and always have been in a sense and how totally they have failed and how in their existing form, ane do not really benefit many people other than the existing employees, they might still have had some relevance in the 1980s and 1990s but we now live in a new world with a different population and for example you cant just complete the electfication of the NIMT for a billion and transform the nation as in reality, a new rail route would be required say shortcuts a new line from say Levin direct to Marton, extension to Taupo and a raising of the operating speed from 62mp to 80mph which requires massive reconstruciton even for freight.

Anonymous said...

The Greens would require a supermajority of the membership to approve such a deal. Which isn't happening, at least for now.

Comorant said...

For James Shaw to go with National after saying the Greens wouldn't. I feel they would have to get some massive policy wins. Small policy wins for the Greens just wouldn't be worth long lasting backlash. Policy wins on green issues like climate change and freshwater.

Hard to see the Farmer's Party stomaching that. In that scenario, the Farmers would have been better off voting for Labour.

kat said...

What if the idiot wind currently emanating from the media turns into a screeching tornado and spinning out of control destroys itself.

Wouldn't the peace and quiet be wonderful.

Victor said...

What if Winston and Binglish do their deal? What if their agreed programme is more interventionist and redistributionist than many in National find ideal? What if the boys in blazers at the Tamaki Yacht Club or wherever start murmuring? What if similar murmurings are heard in the more moneyed parts of Auckland's (not unreasonably Winstonphobic) Chinese community as well as around the nation's golf courses? What if National's funding starts to dry up? What if the aura of victory starts wearing off quicker than expected? What if Hooten and Whale-oil fan the flames? What if Crusher raises the flag of rebellion? Have we been here before? Yup, we sure have! And this time, they'll be no Alamein Kopu to hang onto.

And what if the leader of the opposition grows heavy with child but, midst universal admiration, continues to perform to the impressive top of her game? What if she and James Shaw both bed down their talented new intakes and keep pricking the government where it hurts? What if Labour sorts out the policy mangles that have dogged it during this campaign? What if Labour and the Greens agree on a common programme? And what if discontent continues to mushroom, particularly amongst younger New Zealanders.

If only half these "what ifs" were to eventuate, I'd give the Winston-Binglish pantomime horse two years at most. And that's assuming no World War Three, which might also prove an unreasonable expectation.

thesorrowandthepity said...

A lot of what ifs Chris! What if Jacinda recognises that Winston is just an egoist who has only ever been about himself, she offers him the PM slot (the real joker card in the pack, though not impossible but maybe a little less likely that Bill would try n use it), he in return only asks/demands as he did in 1999 that the Greens are excluded from cabinet.
The only leap in probability is that the Greens would have to become overnight a lot more pragmatic & realistic in their thinking............ that said, it would be hilarious for the Nats to pay Winston back for the 1990s, & for the Greens to pay him back for 1999

greywarbler said...

Robert M
Can't. Won't. Applies intellect to dissecting the past but not able
to embrace the future. Perhaps you are desiring an irrelevant return and standard to infrastructure like trains suggested as needed for the country.
No good sez you. Based on comparison with high--speed Japanese or European systems? What have they done in Scandinavia? It seems to me we have more in common with them than we have with our English speaking allies that we are so closely bound to.

sumsuch said...

Well, it's curled through my thoughts. Curls can't be formed into foundations? If National picked up the Greens' poverty policy and it's climate change policy--lower and higher, I'd consider it. The way the rich and the poor convene on the race course.

Admittedly, I haven't read closely your article because of a dislike of literary lists.

Steve said...

Absolute political suicide for the Greens to get anywhere near National. They would go the same way as the Maori Party, although very much faster.

greywarbler said...

I think Victor is the victor of all possible conjectures? Or has someone more? When one is being objectively subjective (or possibly vice versa) it amuses and pushes aside the gut-wrenching realisation of lack of exercise of intellect that is awfully apparent after seeing the RWs still triumph at the end of this election. Dress the National Party up with a sheet for halloween and they can threaten to scare the pants off every sensitive mortal they confront and rake in funds for their next 'triumph'. Sort those letters out and find world the leader that has recently succeeded in doing just that. With 'what if' politics anything is possible.

Victor said...



The other comparison that keeps occurring to me is the fate of the UK Lib-Dems, who will probably need many decades to remove the stain left by the their involvement in Cameron's 2010 coalition.

After less than a quarter century of proportional representation, our political culture remains essentially gladiatorial and binary. So, if the Greens kept National in office, many of their voters would simply see it as a betrayal of trust.

NZ First is less bound by these shibboleths because it's always been frankly opportunist and, ultimately, about the claims to office of just one man. The rest is window dressing, even if Tracy Martin or Ron Mark would like to think otherwise.

Victor said...

Further to my earlier post, here's an initial stirring from one of corporate Auckland's more capable spear-carriers:


This provides some evidence for my assumption that, once the euphoria dies down, any conceivable National/NZ First tie-up will face far more serious opposition from the Parnell mansion belt than from the boys down on the farm (except, of course, where they're one and the same).

Of colurse, one vehicle for such dissent could be a re-vivified Act. But a toppled Binglish seems more likely.

Charles E said...

The Greens have a chance to become a green party. Declaring them selves, like the environment, neither left nor right. Imagine how many extra votes they could get from that. They would get huge credit for greening National and be the next king making party once WinFirst dies when he retires, or dies of rage, next month.

Anonymous said...

Can't we just retire Winston? FFS, let's get back to a decent electoral system where the tiny tail does not get absolute power. Whichever way he jumps, he is going to annoy the other half of the electorate. National only have themselves to blame for this mess, they did not push to get rid of the shambolic MMP system when they had the chance. I believe he will go with National, who do look more like a govt in waiting.
The point is, the whole country is being dictated to by Winston Raymond Peters. Thanks Jim Bolger, for giving us MMP. (p for Peters). You gotta feel for comeback Bill.

Patricia said...

New Zealand will be having an MMP Government. A real one this time. The Maori Party and Act were mere lapdogs and look what happened to them this time round. Now all the parties are going to have to negotiate about everything. Mind you we don't know how the special votes will fall but if they don't fall National's way we are going to have a Government that actually reflects all New Zealanders. Yippee. There is hope for this little Country after all.

Victor said...

Charles E

The problem with your prognosis is that the Green agenda won't be exhausted in a brief three year period.

But, if the Greens followed your advice, there would be no one left in parliament in three years time to champion that agenda.


Presumably by "decent electoral system" you mean one where my vote only counts when I happen to agree with a plurality of my neighbours.

Personally, I prefer Democracy.


There's no such thing as "an MMP Government". There are merely governments voted into office under MMP, a distinction shared by every government we've had since 1996.

MMP is not a political ideology but an electoral system (albeit, in my view, a pretty good one)

Equally obviously,a government that reflected "all New Zealanders" would need to include the National Party and Act, irrespective of the egregious views of their voters. Somehow or other, I don't think that's what you've got in mind.

Patricia said...

Yes, I do Anonymous. I want them all there. Talking, negotiating, horse trading for the next three years.

Tauhei Notts said...

Nobody has mentioned Chris Trotter's disturbing allegory of Bill English letting James Shaw listen to illicitly obtained recordings of Winnie's and Jacinda's negotiations. Note that I use the word illicit rather than illegal.
That is a chilling thought. It is not really New Zealand the way I want it.

Victor said...


But when will the work get done?

sumsuch said...

Youse above all forget, the Greens would need substantial surrenders. Worthwhile in my opinion. If for once in many decades the poor didn't fall off the list of priorities I would be for it, and it would , along with the Greens's command of climate change policy be completely sellable to their intelligent and compassionate membership.