The new Winston Peters is a team player
OPINION: So suddenly Winston Peters is a team player and a consensus seeker.
The more we see of Winston Peters, the odder it gets.
First he made the rash promise of having the coalition negotiations all wrapped by Thursday, October 12, giving rise to the perfectly understandable expectation a decision would be announced in short order afterwards.
Adopting that sort of time frame, given no real negotiations started until after the final tally of votes last Saturday, was always a rash and ill-considered promise.
With no chance of a decision this week, Peters has said he meant only that the negotiations would be complete but the decision would take longer, especially since so many of the party's board had other obligations.
Peters never needed to hurry the process. He was caned for seeming to prolong the negotiations in 1996 when it took a couple of months to get a result but he should not have set an unrealistic target for this month's talks. As we have seen over the last few weeks, the wheels of government seem to keep turning perfectly well under a caretaker arrangement. The public is also much more familiar with MMP and understands that post-election negotiations take time. He should be apologising for misleading the public.
Then it transpires that Peters is taking the deals or dossiers to his board and that he will be seeking a strong consensus.
I have been an avid Peters watcher for years but I must have missed something. Of course New Zealand First must have had a board in the past but I've never heard Peters talk about it. And now just when we would like to know who they are and what their level of competence is, Peters does not want them outed because apparently they never signed up to be in the public eye.
"New Zealand First values transparency but we also value an individual's privacy especially when they volunteer their services," Peters said.
I guess this stance is understandable as Peters never liked anybody in the party being in the public eye except him. New Zealand First, in other words, was Winston Peters and vice versa. Unpaid backroom people were supposed to be just that but now they have a crucial role.
What is Peters playing at? It probably has something to do with the fact that any decision he makes is going to be unpopular. If he goes with the left coalition, he will be condemned for thumbing his nose at the will of the people who, after all, gave National considerably more seats than any other party.
If he goes right, his voters, especially the 2 or 3 per cent who got him over the threshhold, will be furious because they wanted change. Remember "had enough?".
Peters is used to being unpopular with certain sections of the population but he fears his fans. So what to do? First he shares the blame. He and a few select others will no doubt make the final call but he will be able to say it was a team decision. Subtext: "Don't blame me".
That way no-one will be able to say Peters single- handedly destroyed New Zealand First. This suddenly makes things uncomfortable for the backroom people who believed, quite rightly up to now, that Peters made all the calls and they were there to make sure the billboards were put up and the party bus had enough fuel. Crikey, now they are supposed to choose the Government and be held to account if they get it wrong.
His second motivation might be putting more pressure on the board to accept his view. The board might have an idea of what it wants but Peters has given it a subtle hint of what could happen if it goes against his wishes.
Vintage Peters you might think. It reminds me of his superannuation overpayment that someone leaked to the media. Suddenly the leak was a gross breach of his privacy, and media calls for him to produce the documents and other paper work were impertinent. Don't forget this is a politician who has kept himself in the limelight by releasing confidential information or claiming to have confidential information leaked to him.
Anyway, whichever way New Zealand First jumps, it will be fascinating to see what policy concessions have been wrung out of the successful suitor. This week we should have been poring over the New Zealand First manifesto to see what brilliant ideas from the grab bag of eclectic, broad-brush and largely uncosted policies will be embedded in the final deal.
Will KiwiBank, for instance, become the government's official trading bank, or will GST be removed from basic food items. Will immigration be cut savagely?
Will exporters pay a reduced tax rate of 20 per cent on export generated income or will the new Government be legislating to relocate the Port of Auckland to Northport within 10 years?
Will the coffers of local bodies be boosted with the GST on spending by foreign tourists?
Someone could stop all this nonsense now. Green Party leader James Shaw could give Bill English and ring and say let's talk. The Greens' insistence on playing a one-sided game makes a mockery of MMP and gives all the power to Peters. Our gratitude to Shaw would be expressed at the next election.