Why Winston couldn't do a deal with National
By Richard Harman (author)
Pressure from the National Party organisation appears to have been influential in persuading the National negotiating team not to make any concessions to NZ First during the government formation talks.
POLITIK understands that the NZ First team were surprised by how little National was prepared to give in the talks regarding policy.
Instead, they offered five Cabinet posts --- more than Labour.
But NZ First Leader Winston Peters always said they wanted policy gains - not baubles of office.
The reluctance to concede policy sits awkwardly alongside comments made by Bill English on election night.
Asked if he was willing to move on the immigration issue to meet New Zealand First’s call for a cut English, said: “We respect the negotiation process.
“Mr Peters has got some well-known positions.
“We would expect to be working from tomorrow on how we could find common ground with him on those positions which do represent policies which are different from ours.
“That's the coalition-forming process.
“We know we have to give ground.”
But those comments now appear to have provoked a reaction from the party organisation.
By the end of the week after the election, POLITIK was talking to party officials who though they wanted anonymity wanted it made public that the party was not willing to give its negotiators a blank check to concede NZ First's demands.
At the same time, the party was putting pressure on its board to ensure that it had final sign off any proposal put to NZ First.
This had not been a priority in previous government formations.
One insider described previous approvals as "pro forma".
The approval meeting took place by telephone conference at 1230 last Thursday.
After that call, a relieved official told POLITIK that the negotiators had not made any major concessions to NZ First
There were other pressures.
On September 26, three days after the election, the National party’s pollster, David Farrar, on his bKiwblog said: "Twenty-two of the best 23 seats for NZ First are National held seats.
“This will also make it very interesting for them if they decide to support a Labour-led Government.
“I’m not sure all those provincial and rural voters that voted NZ First will be keen on the inevitable political correctness and anti-agriculture policies that will eventuate from such a Government.
“I’d say there would be a huge backlash.
“This is why I’m quite keen to have Winston go with Labour and Greens.
“ It will be sad for the country, but good for National in the long term as they'd ride a wave of discontent in 2020 and only need to pick up two more seats to govern. "
These comments from Farrar were frequently quoted by National Party sources spoken to by POLITIK over the past few weeks as a reason for the negotiators not to do a deal with NZ First.
But within the caucus, there were different views.
POLITIK is also aware of a proposal floated by back benchers immediately after the election and discussed with at least one Cabinet Minister that would have seen National offer NZ First electorate deals and help the party become a provincial country party.
One of the authors of that proposal told POLITIK that it had gone no further. He didn’t know why.
Even the makeup of the negotiating team was the subject of some speculation among the MPs.
There had been a group – including Ministers Mark Mitchell and Alfred Ngaro --- who had maintained social contact with NZ First MPs when the House was sitting.
Some MPs were surprised these Ministers were not part of the negotiating team.
Altogether, it looks like National were determined to give anything away to NZ First even if that meant going into opposition.
But that decision has provoked some harsh reaction from some National quarters to the new Government.
The new National MP for Northland (who defeated Peters for the seat) wrote on Facebook: “It is a coup and I bet the electorate at the first possible chance (not just Nat supporters either) punish all three parties harshly. We now have a Government without moral authority.”
On Kiwiblog, Farrar, had to delete one post because it “advocated murder” (of Peters).
The post by “RightoverLabour” read: “I believe in eliminating terrorism. Winston is a political and economic terrorist. His assassination would be something I would not shed a tear over."
These reactions are in stark contrast to Bill English’s comments last Thursday night congratulating Jacinda Ardern on becoming Prime Minister.
He wished the new Government well, and though he pointed out that in most countries, any party with 44.4% of the vote would not lose the election, he said “we all know the rules.
“We campaigned according to those rules, and this is the result.
The result is the Government changes.
“It is a legitimate and fair result of the election campaign.”