Winston - down - and even possibly out
By Richard Harman (author)
NZ First leader Winston Peters was last night unrepentant after a bizarre interview on RNZ and his party recording a second poll rating of only just over the five per cent threshold.
The One News Colmar Brunton poll showed NZ First on six per cent; the same as they recorded in the NewsHub Reid Research poll on Tuesday.
National’s pollster, David Farrar tweeted last night that because both polls had NZ First at 6% “that means there is approximately a 17% chance they are below 5%!
In July polling had NZ First at between 11 and 13%.
On current polling, the party would get only seven seats in Parliament which would mean the party's high profile Whangarei candidate, former Labour Government Minister, Shane Jones, would not make it into Parliament because he is unlikely to win the seat and he is ranked only eight on the party list.
Meanwhile, Peters raised eyebrows with a bizarre incident when he was being interviewed by Guyon Espiner on RNZ’s “Morning Report” yesterday morning.
Espiner suggested he had been sacked as a Minister three times, but Peters said he had not and that his departure from the Clark Government had been voluntary.
“I’ve got a document in my bag downstairs which says what you just said was a lie,” he told Espiner who asked whether he wanted to go and get it.
“I’ll ask my colleague to go and get it out of the back of the car; it’s in the black folder .” said Peters live on air.
Some 15 minutes later Peters was handed the letter from Clark which he read out confirming that he had offered to stand aside from his portfolio while he was under a Serious Fraud Office investigation.
‘There it is, from the Prime Minister at the time, so please don’t go and tell people I was sacked, I never was.”
Espiner then asked if he could have a copy.
“No, you can’t.”
The incident raised an immediate question as to whether Peters carries the letter round in a file in the boot of his car.
“No, it’s just happened to be there because somebody was shuffling round some old papers the other day and found the letter and I suggested it be shoved into the folder which then ended up in the car.”
But the incident has raised questions about whether the NZ First Leader and his campaign are starting to lose traction.
POLITIK has spoken to two NZ First candidates who have different stories on how things are going.
One said he faced a highly organised National Party farming surge inspired by Labour’s water tax.
“They’ve got momentum. There is a surge,” he said.
The other said he believed the party’s support was holding up in his region.
In Peters’ own Northland seat, National are becoming more confident that it is going to be a close run thing.
In part that’s because the party itself has been picking up support nationwide.
One National Party official told POLITIK that there was a briefing yesterday on the party's own polling which showed they had moved ahead of Labour for the first time in some weeks and this was being put down to concern about Labour's tax policies and the rural anti water tax protest.
Labour yesterday stepped back from the “Captain’s Call” of the Leader, Jacinda Ardern, to implement a capital gains’ tax before the next election if its Tax Working Group recommended it.
Now the tax would not be implemented till 2021.
It is a backdown by Labour which must surely have been inspired by their own polling showing National making gains.
But in Northland, Peters also faces a strong Labour candidate, Willow Jean Prime, who is picking up some of the “change the Government” vote that he has been appealing to.
National is capitalising on the concern among the farming community about Labour’s somewhat indistinct plans to tax water.
North Otago rural blogger and a former National Party regional chair, Ele Ludeman, says she hasn't seen people this riled up for years “and many who had been complacent or upset with the government for one reason or another are in no doubt they have to tick National this time. “
“It’s not just farmers, the people who service and supply farms are too and people in towns who have benefitted from the population increase and more reliable incomes that have come in the wake of irrigation are upset and worried too.
“The water tax is angering people for many reasons, not least of which is that it is widening the rural-urban divide.”
New Zealand First candidates also say the water tax is the big issue in rural communities whereas a few months ago it was a feeling that the Government had lost interest in rural New Zealand.
Peters won the Northland by-election because he campaigned against the Government.
Prime also stood, but Labour made sure that she ran an almost invisible campaign so Peteras would win and thus reduce the Government’s majority.
In that sense, his 2015 vote was artificially inflated.
He’s clearly worried. Last night he was on his way back from Dunedin to go to a Grey Power candidates’ meeting Dargaville today.
He says he has attended every candidates’ meeting.
But NZ First’s ultimate problem is that it prospers when the main Opposition party is weak; thus it got 10.4% of the vote in 2002 when National in opposition got only 21%, and in 2011 when Labour got 27.5%, and it got 11.1%.
And that was how things were tracking this year until Jacindamania boosted Labour up out of the 20s and into the 30s and now 40s in the polls.
Even whether Peters will still be the kingmaker is now in doubt. But Peters is the great political survivor, and as he pointed out yesterday, his party is the third oldest currently in Parliament. Those survival skills look like they are going to be tested massively over the next week.