Winston Peters via Getty
Winston Peters via Getty

Peter Williams: We just can't get rid of Winston

Peter Williams 21/06/2021

OPINION: There is only one Winston in this country and he’s become so familiar and so much a part of the political furniture that we don’t even need to say his second name, even when he and his party were so completely and utterly thrashed in last year’s election. 

So he finally makes a public appearance, and his speech was so predictable and his themes so obvious that reading through his words I thought I could have written this for him without his instructions. But did he stroke a chord with you? 

He is now 76, he’ll be 78 at the next election, he is still the leader of the party he founded, there is no obvious succession plan in place, there is yet another party president and there is still a whiff of suspicion about how New Zealand First organises its affairs. There is also the reality that what he did after the 2017 election by going into coalition with the Labour Party means that people who might otherwise support him just will not trust him again. 

Yet in these times of really significant public policy changes being foisted on us, the content of Winston’s speech hit the spot in a way that will have an older generation of New Zealanders thinking, yeah, Winston you are talking sense.

Is New Zealand First a chance of getting back again? Does Winston actually need to find a protege to carry the candle forward? Surely, this country, with a population balance increasingly tilting towards those born since 1980, will not put a man born in 1945 back in Parliament, would they? And don’t give me the line about well, if he did get back in 2023 he’d be the same age as Joe Biden is now. Frankly, if Joe Biden is put up as the epitome of man being effective in life at the age of 78, then the world has a serious issue. 

Here’s what I reckon. I read his speech yesterday and I think, yep, Winston is hitting the spot with me. The whole business of the country constantly being called Aotearoa. The government enabling a wave of rights-based activism, the swinging of the pendulum starting with the deal at Ihumatao, and the reaffirmation that New Zealand First stands for one flag, one country and one law. That’s before he attacks the policies which have turned Auckland from the City of Sails into the “City of Snails” and the proposed cycling and walking Bridge to Nowhere. 

Most extraordinarily, though totally expected, of course, is his revelation that a report called He Puapua, which we now all know plenty about, was brought to a government that he was the deputy Prime Minister in, but he never knew about and says was deliberately suppressed. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the machinations of the Labour Party and the influence of the Maori caucus inside it, then I don’t know what will. 

So what chance Winston of a comeback? Despite what he said yesterday, is he really a chance? Or has he burnt his trust with the 97.5 percent of us who didn't vote for his party at last year’s election? Was the beginning of the end of his political career the day that he picked Labour over National in 2017, or rather let personal feuds with the likes of Bill English and Paula Bennett get in the way of the greater good of the country? 

His comeback to that is well, look at the state of National now. That’s why we didn’t go with them. Well, that is a silly and irrational argument. If he’d picked Bill English as Prime Minister in 2017, the National Party would not be in the disarray it’s in now, and we might trust him and his party a whole lot more than we do at this time.

Are you wishing Winston was still around? Can you ever trust him again? But isn’t he saying things that deep down you really, really agree with?

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