Late entry for Winston's cup of tea

16:00, Nov 26 2011
Winston Peters greets supporters at a New Zealand First celebration in Takapuna last night.
HE'S BACK: Winston Peters greets supporters at a New Zealand First celebration in Takapuna last night.

He became the wild card, the man from deep left field who barged into the electoral fray, scaring the man in the lead.

It was a role Winston Peters revelled in.

Political experts agree – it was the teapot tape scandal that helped Peters ride a late-breaking wave of support that brought him back to Parliament after a three-year hiatus.

During the campaign Peters with masterful political theatrics had drip-fed details of Prime Minister John Key's recorded conversation with John Banks at a cafe in Auckland, gaining him invaluable media time.

Joe Atkinson, a senior lecturer in political studies at Auckland University, said the tea-tape episode was "wonderful fodder" for Peters.

"It was something that drew attention to John Key's failings, I think, and lack of openness. This is food for a populist conspiracy theorist like Winston."

Advertisement

Mike Williams, former Labour Party president and campaign maestro, agreed the "teapot thing" was certainly behind Peters' rise in voters' minds.

"It gave him oxygen... he had a whole week of publicity and he wasn't getting any, he was spinning his wheels before that."

Political scientist Jon Johannson was another who gave Key the credit for creating his own nemesis in the last days of the campaign: "Solely through the efforts of John Key" and his handling of the teapot tapes. "And the space that always existed if he was given a platform. Those are the two reasons."

Atkinson said the other factor in Peters' favour was that his natural constituency, the elderly, were growing in number – contrary to the leaked teagate mutterings that his voters were dying off. Peters appeals to issues the elderly rate as important, and each year the number of elderly swells.

Political commentator Chris Trotter said it was impossible not to attribute Peters' success to the tea-tape scandal.

"At a crucial moment in the campaign they gave Winston Peters the front page and the lead item on the news. He used that to great effect, and he acquitted himself extremely well in the minor party leaders' debate."

Peters' late break onto the stage of political theatre this year was also a bonus for him, said Atkinston – "he has not been under rather vicious media and political attack as he was at the last election".

Atkinson said the tendency in New Zealand elections was to "handicap the winner. When there is an incumbent a long way ahead, there tends to be a protest vote somewhere. It's clear Winston is a popular conservative voice of protest. It shouldn't be completely surprising – the only thing that is perhaps surprising is the electorate's's memory, which is short."

Trotter said Peters had been well received around the country during his campaign. "In provincial New Zealand, places like Geraldine and Dannevirke, he's been packing them in in a serious way, which is quite unusual in this day and age.

"I guess there was always a group of people who were accessible to Winston. All it really required was for those people to feel that there was a chance.

"Really it was the opening that National provided with the teapot tapes which I think persuaded people to move away from Labour, or the non-vote, or even National, to declare their allegiance."

Williams said Peters had been actively campaigning for a long time, away from the media spotlight.

"He still gets a good crowd. That Super Gold card – if you're a retired person, Winston's in your wallet."

That rump of lingering support for Peters is a cause of anger for some.

Political commentator Mattthew Hooton, a well-known brutal critic of Peters, said while the teapot drama may have been a factor in lifting Peters' support, the main reason his support rose was because he had targeted "venal elderly who are prepared to vote for him because he hands them out indulgences" and "deranged 50-year-old male losers who live with their mothers".

"It says there is something very sick about 5 per cent of our population, that they would support a person like that who... targets vulnerable groups, whether they are Asian immigrants, Maori."

Sunday Star Times