Talking himself down
By Richard Harman (author)
Has the Winston Peters bubble burst?
Last night’s TVOne Colmaer Brunt poll showed NZ First on three per cent and Peters himself on only two per cent in the preferred Prime Minister poll.
In May last year, NZ First was at 4.2 per cent and Peters on four per cent.
Both the party and Peters have fallen two per cent since Colmar Brunton’s last poll early in June.
On these figures, NZ First would not be back in Parliament after the next election.
Labour, however, does not need to worry. The polls expose National's lack of any support party.
Though National is holding its election night support of 45%, Labour and the Greens between them scored 49% in the poll; enough to form a Government.
The dilemma that faces Peters and his party was on display yesterday when he filled in for the Prime Minister at her weekly post-Cabinet press conference.
He was there as deputy Prime Minister and therefore required to explain Government actions, but he is also NZ First leader, and if he is to make any headway in public he needs to be seen to be offering something different to the government.
His natural instincts lean that way anyway; NZ First is essentially a conservative rather than a progressive party.
That was obvious when he was asked what he had discussed with American officials he had met on his recent trip to Washington.
“They share an understanding of the realities that we have to deal with, out there in the Pacific, in the theatre which goes all the way to Hawaii and Japan," he said.
What were those realities?
“For the first time for a long time, a number of countries are realising how we must all refresh and reset out views to secure economically and socially the security of our part of the world.”
So are those realities China?
“We are talking about the theatre with our eyes wide open as we announced at the Lowy Institute in Australia well over a year ago what we were facing and how we intended to respond to it.”
In the question and answer session at the Lowy Institute in March last year, Peters quoted Winston Churchill on China.
“ China's a sleeping dog let it lie," he said.
“He knew full well what one day what would happen if it ever was to wake up and organise itself and we're experiencing that now.”
The blog “Point of Order" which is believed to have close connections to some Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff yesterday said “PM Jacinda Ardern isn’t too fussed about China’s expansion in the Pacific.
“This is hardly surprising since she has been in Samoa, a recipient of recent Chinese largesse.
“But it does reinforce the view among NZ officials that she and Foreign Minister Winston Peters do not see eye to eye on the issue.
“On Peters’ recent Washington DC visit he reiterated his concerns; these are shared by the US, which is planning to ramp up its activity in the region.”
And so to cover his tracks, Peters talks in elliptical sentences and almost in code when he talks about China.
He faces a similar challenge on the Resource Management Act reform process.
He called National's proposals to include iwi participation clauses race-based separatism during the election campaign in 2017.
It would seem Environment Minister David Parker is at least sympathetic to those proposals.
His Cabinet paper published last week says: “The RMA is of great significance to Māori.
“RMA provisions for Māori participation are some of the most significant expressions of how the Crown provides for the Treaty of Waitangi (the Treaty) and the Māori-Crown relationship. “
When Parker was asked last week whether Peters supported this, he replied that he had signed off on the Cabinet paper.
Asked yesterday if he agreed with that summation of his position, Peters said: “Mr Parker has put that to the public at this point in time, and let me say this, that we are interested in consulting with every New Zealander.”
Again, the elliptical language and the ducking of the question.
And that is now his political problem; because he cannot talk directly to his base who are suspicious of China and opposed to what they believe is Maori privilege, he is obviously losing support.
It is hard to see how he can recover it as long as he remains in Cabinet and coalition with Labour.