Watch the wily crocodile

Illustration: Mat Patchett
Illustration: Mat Patchett
If it were anyone but Winston Peters re-emerging from the backwaters after his beating in last year’s election just about everyone would say he stood no chance next time.

His return as leader and contesting the next election now seems probable — even if Mr Peters, typically, is playing games with the media and the public.

Mr Peters first gave an interview with an Australian broadcaster, blasting the inadequacy of the Covid rollout. Next, he spoke at the New Zealand First annual conference where he snapped at “wokism”, the use of Aotearoa instead of New Zealand and Maori “separatism”.

No questions and only one media interview followed. As usual, and just like with a certain ex-United States president, the media is attacked and blamed.

As usual, the media — knowing what makes news and what their readers, listeners and watchers want — gave him plenty of publicity nonetheless.

There are those in the political and educated classes who see the attitudes espoused as deplorable and as having limited appeal. It is many years since the big popularity bump to former National Party leader Don Brash when “Kiwi not iwi” was the name of the game.

It is true, too, that most New Zealanders are more accepting of specific Maori prominence.

But the current classes ruling the public sphere should not be underestimating the depth of feelings of middle New Zealand, particularly the older generations.

There is fertile ground to be tilled. People resent being told they are responsible for the “trauma of colonialism” and that they are racists in the way the word is often used today.

The big questions for Winston Peters and faithful sidekick Shane Jones — another with an ear for populism and an effective turn of phrase — is how successful they can be in appealing more widely than in the last election. Just 2.6% of the vote was abysmal.

That will depend on the extent of the backlash to “wokism”, to taxing utes, to cycle bridges, to “separatism”.

That will depend, too, on the success of the Covid roll-out and the Covid situation. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour rode the Covid crisis when the nation came in behind her.

If the Covid response and circumstances fall apart, however, many voters would be looking for replacement parties.

Middle New Zealand deserted National and New Zealand First — even if it was not entirely happy with aspects of the agenda and attitudes of Labour and its fellow travellers.

Act, meanwhile, hoovered up anti-establishment votes. It continues, under the smart and quick David Seymour, to capture chunks of potential New Zealand First support.

But Act can lose its shine, National can remain in disarray and Labour’s reputation can tumble.

Under these conditions, the onus is then on Mr Peters and New Zealand First if they are to have a chance of reaching the 5% threshold to enter Parliament. The weekend conference, which elected a 33-year-old president, was a start.

Mr Peters and the party also need to project positivity and build trust.

Mr Peters and Mr Jones have not been assisted in gaining public confidence by donation suspicions and the pork-barrel politics of the party’s Provincial Growth Fund.

Yet, when Mr Peters is on form, his charm, his cheeky and welcome grin and his pithy jabs appeal to many.

Several ifs and buts need to come together for what would be an extraordinary comeback. Although unlikely, longshots do sometimes come home.

Former National leader Simon Bridges this week described Mr Peters as a wily crocodile.

Wily Mr Peters should not be written off just yet.

 

Comments

Winston Peters alluded to the NZ on Air funding of public service journalism that is highly contingent on promoting progressive causes. Conservative commentators are not happy that such a vast amount of money is being spent by the Government to pretty much promote their policies. This is a gift to someone like Peters.

So starts a media attack campaign.......

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