Jonathan Milne: Winston weighs up baubles and vendettas against public good

JONATHAN MILNE
Last updated 12:59 08/10/2017

The three leaders begin a five-day marathon of negotiations on Sunday in Wellington.

IAIN McGREGOR / STUFF
Remember NZ's interests outweigh any personal acrimony. Sound sensible? It should – those are your own words.
BRADEN FASTIER / STUFF
Winston Peters says he and the NZ First board will not be swayed in their decision-making by personal acrimony.
HAGEN HOPKINS / GETTY IMAGES
Peters says NZ First will simply consider which partner will allow them to best deliver on their key policies.

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OPINION: Bill English's self-proclaimed moral authority is gone – this weekend's count of special votes tells the tale. Jacinda Ardern's star dust has settled. And this morning, as the leaders fly back into Wellington to  begin negotiations proper, it is Winston Peters' day.

Peters has said he and the NZ First board will not be swayed in their decision-making by personal acrimony, vendettas and the baubles of office. They will simply consider which party – Labour or National – will allow them to best deliver on their key policies. And they will listen to good advice.

"They'll be seriously influenced by how you feel about things," Peters told me before the election, a twinkle in his eye.

Surely not, I replied.

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"Jonathan, on our board, they speak of nothing else," Peters grinned. "They ask me every weekend, how is Jonathan, what's he doing, what's he writing?"

So be it, then. Here is some serious advice for Peters and his board as they embark on the enormous responsibility of negotiating this country a government. 

1) Take your wins where you can get them. By all means, extend the SuperGold card, restore the superannuation age to 65, slash immigration numbers and shut down land sales to foreigners. If you must. But be honest about what you concede. When – inevitably – you back down on a referendum on the Maori seats or shifting Auckland's port  to Whangarei, simply acknowledge that in coalition politics, you can't get everything you want.

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2) Reject the so-called baubles of office. This is not just about whether your partner accompanies you on overseas trips as Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is about turning down Ministerial posts like racing, forestry and fisheries, where there might be any perception that you could be compromised by friends and donors in those industries.

3) Don't let it get personal. It's no secret there are a few grudges, after you questioned English's integrity over your leaked superannuation file. But as English and Ardern tread gingerly around you, lest they say anything that causes offence, remember the interests of New Zealand outweigh any personal acrimony. Sound sensible? It should – those are your own words.

4) Bring the public with you. Ignore the excitable constitutional law professors looking for the latest innovation in government formation from the world's social laboratory, New Zealand. This isn't about constitutional rules. It's about public relations. If the decision about who leads our next government does come down to you, the onus will be on you to clearly explain your thinking. This is not a time for bluster and evasion.

5) This is about sustainability. Finally, and this is important, policies and politicians come and go. One government may raise the retirement age, the next lower it. One may cut taxes, the next reinstate them. But what New Zealanders demand is stable government that keeps the interests of all New Zealanders at heart – not just our friends and neighbours, or the swing voters, or the big political donors.

We don't need moral authority. We don't need star dust. We don't ask the government to solve all our problems for us.

We just ask that the government level the playing field and provide us all with the same opportunities to solve our own problems.

- Sunday Star Times

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