Jonathan Milne: Voters cannot, and will not, tolerate Winston abusing his kingmaker position video


Winston Peters failed to win Northland, but his party will be back in Parliament.

OPINION: A friend opened his front door to a conservatively-dressed man and woman carrying leaflets, on Saturday morning. They asked, was he tired of corrupt government and ready for a change?

Taken aback that any party would door-knock on election day, he asked who they were campaigning for.

After a slight pause, the woman responded: they were Jehovah's Witnesses. They took no part in debased earthly politics, instead putting their faith in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Winston Peters has stars in his eyes – but in truth, he is barely needed.

Winston Peters has stars in his eyes – but in truth, he is barely needed.

Now, this ain't heaven. Not by any stretch. Forget the stardust. There are people sleeping in cars, there are children who go to school barefoot and hungry. But the truth is, whatever you may think of Steven Joyce or Winston Peters, New Zealand politics remains largely and refreshingly free of corruption.

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Of course, parties misrepresented each other's policies. It has always been thus. The leaders espoused "relentless positivity" and a "strong, confident New Zealand", while behind them in the shadows their less-principled lieutenants rooted in the muck.

But the leaders fronted up, time and again, to every conceivable question the public, the media and their opponents could throw at them. On the eve of the election, Jacinda Ardern was sitting outside Pt Chevalier Bowling Club in the gathering dusk, valiantly answering banal queries on Twitter. Asked one: "Double Browns or Lion Red?"

"Waikato Draught," she replied. "Is that allowed?" 

By 9 o'clock the next morning, the same time my friend was opening his door to the Jehovah's Witnesses, there was already a friendly queue building outside our local intermediate school.

Bill English espoused a "strong, confident New Zealand", with lieutenant Steven Joyce always at his shoulder.

Bill English espoused a "strong, confident New Zealand", with lieutenant Steven Joyce always at his shoulder.

We took our sons with us when we voted. The boys played with a giant black and white chess set by the door, the pawns as big as them, and tried to sneak a peek at my party vote in the booth.

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I couldn't see any party scrutineers, with their blue and red and green rosettes.

That was, perhaps, the first sign that something was amiss.

Neither were there, for that matter, any security guards, armed police or machine gun-toting soldiers. There were no metal detectors at the door. There were no pin-striped political heavies lurking in the corners.

This calm and simple way in which New Zealand's election campaign was conducted – Waikato Draught outside Pt Chev Bowling Club – this is not how the world runs its elections in 2017!

Post-Brexit. Post-Trump. Post-truth. At a time when the world has become cynical of the conduct of democracy and elections, it seems we still live in a safer, more trusting place.

Perhaps a naive global backwater, "a huckleberry little country" as Mike Hosking would have it. Or perhaps a place of sufficient old-fashioned respect and courtesy that one prime ministerial aspirant can challenge the other, "look me in the eye and say that".

So yes, there is something strange and unusual going on in New Zealand politics.

When so much of world politics seems to have descended into morass of abuse and dishonesty, we still debate politics with (get this!) civility and mutual respect.

On Sunday morning, Bill English talks to Winston Peters as he begins negotiating the terms of a new government with which he hopes to lead this country through to 2020. Let us be clear: Peters has no choice. The voting public cannot, and will not, tolerate him abusing his kingmaker position by swinging his support behind Ardern, when she is trailing 13 seats behind National.

Some will be happy with this outcome; some disappointed.

But the result is clear and unequivocal. A record 2.5 million New Zealanders voted. An unprecedented 1.2 million voted for National.

Now, we will all get on with debating the best ways to meet the big challenges – health, housing, child poverty ...

Bill English, you have a tough three years ahead of you. Those who have the interests of all New Zealanders at heart will wish you well.

And the Jehovah's Witnesses?

Perhaps they might look away from the heavens, and instead help the rest of us rebuild Godzone for our kids.

*Comments on this article have been closed

 - Sunday Star Times


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