Audrey Young: Winston Peters has some cause for confidence in 2023

OPINION:

Winston Peters’ declarations about his party’s prospects next election sounded as confident as Arnie in The Terminator as he wrapped up his first speech since being ousted last October.

“We’ll be back” he said with certainty, because confidence is a requirement in politics.

A party leader cannot afford to express any self-doubt as Andrew Little found out when he confided on the 6 pm newsin 2017 that he had thought about resigning as Labour leader.

Two days later he was forced to resign as leader because while self-doubt is not as bad as disunity, it is almost as bad.

But Peters has cause to feel genuinely confident about the prospects of New Zealand First getting back next time.

First of all, New Zealanders will no longer feel in the midst of an international crisis, touch wood, by 2023, which unquestionably was the biggest factor in Labour being returned as the first majority-led Government under MMP.

Most voters wanted Jacinda Ardern’s Labour, or parties that would support her continued leadership.

Despite the chaos in the National Opposition, and despite the popularity of Ardern, New Zealand First still did not commit to supporting a Labour-led Coalition for a second term.

New Zealand First ran the worst campaign of its life and got its worst result of 2.6 per cent. But the result would have been similar even if it had it run a good campaign.

It consigned itself to irrelevancy by relitigating the past and offering nothing for the future.

The reason for Peter’s confidence is that if Labour continues as it has started its second term, there will be no shortage of issues on which Peters will campaign on, such as the “bridge to nowhere” in Auckland, subsidies for EVs, renaming New Zealand as Aotearoa with no consultation, or the radical He Puapua report which no New Zealand First minister saw.

Peters had a flick at Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi for eschewing the neck-tie in Parliament as a symbol of a “colonial noose” but happily wearing his “cowboy hat” in the House.

It is a crowded political market that New Zealand First will share with National and Act but as Māori, Peters and Shane Jones have more freedom to exploit such issues without being labelled racist and, more importantly, not caring if they are.

It was a careful speech in some respects. It slammed much about the Government while fencing off Ardern. “We are not challenging the Prime Minister’s good intentions and her crisis leadership.”

And she has been careful not to criticise him.

It was a carefree speech in other respects, with Peters slamming John Key for some throwaway line about the flag when the one thing everyone remembers is that he put the issue to a referendum.

Peters can’t seem to make up his mind whether it is a compliment or an insult to be described as a handbrake on Labour. He will need to decide by next election.

And he will need to sharpen his memory about facts.

He has defended his decision to reject National in 2017 on the basis of the “sex maniacs” and the mess the party was in. But in 2017 National was the largest party in Parliament with Bill English as leader and the sexting scandals of MP Andrew Falloon and candidate Jake Bezzant were years away.

It won’t be an easy path back to Parliament. Former office holders still have a Serious Fraud Office trial to face over the party’s fundraising vehicle, the NZ First Foundation, in June next year.

But if they are cleared, and other political stars realign for Peters, he could well be back.

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