Did Winston Peters Betray His Base?

Democracy, Economics, Elections, Government, New Zealand Politics, Rundown

Nearly a month after New Zealand’s general election the nation finally learned who its new government would be. Neither the National Party nor the Labour and Greens bloc could govern without the support of the nationalist New Zealand First Party led by veteran politician Winston Peters.

Both National and Labour had engaged in weeks of protracted negotiations trying to woo Peters. Election night was interpreted by many as a strong result for the governing National Party and its current Prime Minister Bill English who gave what looked like a victory speech. It was also seen as an underwhelming result for Labour and its new leader Jacinda Ardern for which expectations had been set high.

Many expected Winston Peters to drag out negotiations for as long as possible and extract as many concessions as possible but in the end support the National Party since they were the largest party. This is why he stunned many by announcing he would form a government with Labour making Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister.

It is the first time under New Zealand’s mixed member proportionate system introduced in 1996 that the largest party in an election has not been able to form government. This is why the new government has been dubbed a Coalition of losers.

Many view New Zealand First as a right wing party and would have voted for them on this basis, therefore it is worth asking the question did Winston Peters and New Zealand First betray their base?

Although New Zealand First in the past has supported both National and Labour governments it is important to note that this is a much different situation. Labour still cannot govern without the support of the Greens who are globalist party. Jacinda Ardern is not a centrist like previous Labour Prime Minister Helen Clarke but both economically left and socially left.

New Zealand First is often compared to One Nation in Australia, one would not expect nor tolerate Pauline Hanson to support a minority government which contained politicians such as Tanya Plibersek and Sarah Hanson-Young.

New Zealand First supports putting all contentious social issues to a referendum so it would appear Ardern’s social agenda of legalizing abortion and euthanasia would conflict with that policy. Winston Peters was heckled at a farmers’ rally against Labour’s proposed water tax for refusing to rule out a Coalition with Labour. Just think of the farmers’ reaction to his decision, adding to their concern would be Ardern’s commitment to address climate change.

Another key pledge of Winston Peters during the election was to hold a referendum on the abolition of Maori seats in New Zealand’s Parliament, Jacinda Ardern the day after the election was quick to rule out any such move. However, she did promise the Greens a referendum on the legalisation of Cannabis so is not completely averse to giving the people a say.

But in announcing his decision Winston Peters claimed the biggest influence on it was a desire to save capitalism “Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe” adding “That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible – its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations”.

Therefore we should not be surprised that he chose to go with Jacinda Ardern who had previously said that neo-liberalism had failed. Her post-decision press conference talked about her desire to see government take a more interventionist role in the economy. She also stated in her first TV interview since he elevation that the prevalence of homelessness and child poverty proved capitalism was a ‘blatant failure’.

New Zealand is certainly set for a lurch to the left economically potentially undoing the nine years of stable economic growth that the National Government oversaw. The tax cuts planned by the outgoing National Government have been cancelled with the agreement of all three Coalition partners. Add to this there is the tax working group Labour promised before the election to look at possible future taxes and government appears set to grow.

The only silver lining for conservatives in a Labour-Green-NZ First government is that immigration is set to be slashed by 30,000 per year which was one of the few issues (the other being housing affordability) that Labour was better than National on. It was because of Labour’s stance on immigration that Australian commentators Mark Latham and Andrew Bolt put a positive spin on Winston Peters’ decision.

In the view of some because a man such as Winston Peters was able to hold the nation in political limbo for a month despite holding only 9 seats out of a parliament of 120 is proof that the mixed member proportionate system does not deliver stable and effective government.

But Peters is likely to be punished if it is proven he made the wrong choice. It has happened on both previous occasions he has entered Coalitions. His party’s vote fell below 5% in 1999 following the breakdown of his Coalition with the National Party which included MP defections. In 2008 New Zealand First failed to win any seats in parliament after backing Helen Clarke’s Labour Government for its final term.

Peters might have also been wise to google Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott who were the last right leaning politicians to prop up a Labor-Green government and it did not work out well for them. The New Zealand of three years’ time will look very different, and if it is for the worse we know who to hold the most responsible.