When you sing Happy Birthday while washing your hands on April 11 – think of Winston

How  quickly   the political  landscape  can change.  A   month ago,  Deputy  PM  Winston Peters,  along with  PM  Jacinda  Ardern,   was  deep into  a  trans-Tasman  sledging   match   after  Ardern  attacked Australia’s hardline  deportation.

But   as  the  coronavirus  crisis broadened, it  was  Peters  on the line to  Canberra  seeking  Australia’s  assistance in  repatriating  stranded  New Zealanders in places as far  apart as  Nepal  and  Peru.

Whether    Peters   offered an  apology for his  earlier  megaphone diplomacy is  not  known  (we suspect  not).  He  thought he was  on a winner  back then  in  March  (the coronavirus pandemic  at that  time was being glossed over lightly by the government )  as he  gave   the Scott Morrison government a verbal  towelling.  He told  the ABC  it was a bit rich for Australia to be shipping its unwanted people to NZ when an Australian has been charged over the deaths of 51 people in the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Did we make a song and dance about Australia about that? It was the worst tragedy we’ve ever had – 51 people lost their lives – scores and scores were damaged forever.  Far worse than Port Arthur, and nobody in my country sought to abuse Australia about that, that’s my point … and we want a thing called respect.”

Peters then told Sky News Australia he was itching to argue deportation with the Australian government.

I’m happy to have a debate with them, anytime they like … the whole lot of them.”

In  the event,  subsequent    conversations  have  probably  had a  rather  different tone,  though  Peters  admittedly is a  master of  switching   his political  tune  when he  needs to.

In his   remote  Whanamaki retreat  in  Northland  this past week,  between calls to  Wellington, Canberra  and  other  foreign  capitals,   he’s  probably   had the chance  for  reflection  on his  remarkable  political  career.

And  with   his  75th  birthday  coming  up on April 11,  he  may  be  scanning   the  horizon  for  what  lies ahead.  The  seemingly ageless  Peters   thrives   in the heat  of  political  battle.  Retirement  from the fray  may not  even have  crossed his mind.

Without  any  sign  yet   whether the general  election  will be   postponed  from  its September  19  date,  Peters may be pondering   how  NZ  First  can  escape   the  fallout    when the ranks of the unemployed  start  lengthening.

There  are  some  dark  clouds  circling  over the  party.  Take the  racing industry,  which was one of the props  for  NZ  First in the last election campaign,  when leading  figures  supplied  cash  to the party,  in the expectation  Peters could fulfil  his pledge to  rescue  the industry.  Now  the  industry is  in even  deeper crisis than it  was then, unable to win recognition as  an essential industry,   trainers unable to  exercise  their  horses, and race meetings cancelled.   Almost certainly   the thousands of dollars of funding from industry players    channelled   towards  NZ  First will  slow to  only  a  trickle.

Property  developers   who looked  fondly on  NZ  First  when it  blocked Labour’s  policy on a capital gains  tax  have other  worries  on their minds now,  as  many   businesses fold their tents and depart  the premises they rented.

And  the  $3 billion   regional  development  fund,  which was expected  to shore  up  support for  NZ  First,  will look like only a drop in  the bucket  of  what  is needed to   revitalise the  economy  once   NZ  emerges from  lockdown.

NZ  First  certainly   won’t  want to be  reminded   it  was  Peters  who  in  the 1917 election campaign asserted  he  would be first  down the  Pike River drift  to recover the bodies  in that mining disaster   (particularly  as  the coalition has  in  effect wasted  $57m  hard-earned  taxpayer dollars on  the  recovery project)

If  the  government’s  campaign  to  subdue the   virus  is successful,  it is   unlikely  any of the plaudits  will spill  over to  Labour’s coalition  partners,  least of all to  NZ  First.

As  a  UK  commentator  put it,  coronavirus  is revealing the true  nature of  political  power.  Here  in  NZ   it is  being  wielded  by  Jacinda   Ardern.   And  the  credit,  if   she succeeds,  won’t  be shared  with  NZ  First.

Labour has ensured the focus  has been on  Ardern’s  skills  as a   leader and  a  communicator,  squeezing  other  key ministers  outside  the  range of cameras,  exploiting  the absence of  normal  political  argument.  And when business  leaders  mark  the government ten  out of ten  for  its  performance,  none  of that spills over  to the  subordinate members of the coalition.

When  it  comes to the  recovery phase,  voters   will be  demanding  far-reaching and  imaginative  programmes  to  rehabilitate  the economy.   NZ  First   with its small-scale  conservatism  doesn’t play in that league.

But   Peters  has never  been a  politician  who has cut-and-run.    Few  can  doubt he  believes he  can  beat the odds, as he has done  so  often  since he founded  his party  29 years  ago.

Truly the old master   will have to deploy  all the  tricks  of the trade  he has  learnt   in his  political  career  spanning more than four  decades  (and probably   some  more as well)  to get  across  the  line  again.

3 thoughts on “When you sing Happy Birthday while washing your hands on April 11 – think of Winston

  1. 57 million dollars wasted on Pike River recovery. What a disgusting waste of money. Imagine what that amount could do to help the DHB hospitals and their overworked staff saving lives on a daily basis. All sympathy to Pike river families, but it’s now got to the stage where posturing politicians have converted sympathy to cynicism.


  2. Surprised you’re peddling the falsehood that “NZ First [when it] blocked Labour’s policy on a capital gains”. Follow the story at the time and NZ 1st were all for it


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