Is it still New Zealand first?

Winston Peters.
Winston Peters.
It's been nearly 26 years since Winston Peters officially launched New Zealand First. Back then, he was the firebrand non-conformer, the winebox-wielding champion of the people.

There are those who like Winston Peters and those who don't. There are those who believe New Zealand First's contribution to New Zealand politics to be largely unhelpful - especially as it relates to race and immigration. There are others who believe the party's policy platform is worthy and essential.

What no-one can deny is that Mr Peters and his party have been successful. New Zealand politics has long been essentially a two-party system and in many ways remains so. New Zealand First's survival suggests considerable support for the party and its leader.

Aside from what appeared to be a less-than-stellar performance in Turkey a few weeks ago, most would accept Mr Peters has done a good job so far as a prime partner in this coalition Government. He has provided moderation, maturity and stability, while still maintaining his much-loved ability to insult and amuse in the same breath.

But his party, despite securing a $3billion fund to lavish on the regions, is struggling in the polls. In fact, New Zealand First is now well below the 5% threshold and has been for each of the last three major polls.

There is precedent, certainly, that junior coalition parties struggle to maintain their polling numbers while in government. But there is also an argument to be made that Mr Peters' colleagues are doing his party no favours as they dance perilously close to abuse of power allegations.

Defence Minister Ron Mark has been accused of treating the Air Force as a taxi service, and of using his Cabinet minister position to get party votes. New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft was accused of threatening to scupper Provincial Growth Fund allocations if National Party MPs didn't follow her orders. Accusations are not facts and neither MP has been sacked. But both have apologised.

Then there is Shane Jones, the former Labour Party leadership candidate who now appears to be positioning himself as Mr Peters' successor.

Mr Jones seems to have taken on board the adage that any publicity is good publicity. Indeed, of the country's 120 MPs, there are few who would have the name recognition and public profile of Mr Jones. He is clever and articulate with notable experience both inside and outside Parliament. He was a popular Labour MP and was respected by the then-National government. He seems custom-made for New Zealand First.

But none of that makes him immune to abusing his ministerial power - something his political opponents have repeatedly accused him of this term. For some MPs, the accusations themselves could have been career-ending. But not so for Mr Jones. He has simply brushed the accusations off.

And fair enough, as he seems immune from any serious criticism coming his way from the Prime Minister. That's not to say she approves of his antics - she likely does not. But it appears Jacinda Ardern's conviction is that the coalition needs unity more than it needs discipline.

It could appear Mr Jones is getting away with questionable behaviour. It could appear he is invincible to repercussions. But as much as politics is about appearances, in the end it is numbers which matter the most. And the polling numbers suggest Mr Jones' party is in trouble.

Perhaps the whiff of abuse of power currently wafting around New Zealand First's MPs is having repercussions after all.

By the time the next election rolls around New Zealand First will be 27 years old. That's old enough to show a decent level of respect and maturity. Mr Jones may need to show more of the same if the party is to convince voters it still exists to put New Zealand first.


All the NZ first cabinet ministers are unprincipled and have only there own interests at heart.
They don't deserve to be in government holding the whole country to ra.ansom while wasting Billions