Which way Winston, and what’s in it for the Greens?

Some quick thoughts off the back of Winston Peters’ comment to a journalist today that the idea of a Labour Green government is a “gross misrepresentation of the NZ political situation”.

What did he mean? Frankly, who knows? Even on the rare occasion that Winston says something in plain language, he still never actually said it according to him. Even when it is published on the New Zealand First website. I have no interest in trying to decipher his intentions from such sparse hints. It is more interesting is to reflect on the bigger picture of the coalition negotiations.

Winston can either go with Labour Greens or with National. Going with National is a risky line to take – and if he does he will be wanting to push the blame onto the Greens as much as possible for being ‘unreasonable’. Even so, NZF was badly damaged after going into coalition with National in 1996 after a campaign indicating that they were going to change the government. It is likely they will be damaged again if he does so now. His election slogan was “Had Enough’. Unless he was talking about himself (and most of us have), this implies an intention to support a Labour-led Government.

In any case, by propping up a last term National Government he will be handing a poisoned chalice to whoever he plans to anoint as successor. Whoever it is will have a hard enough time regardless. Of the two most likely contenders, Shane Jones cannot hide his supreme contempt for anyone who isn’t Shane Jones and is unlikely to have a lasting appeal to voters. I rate Ron Mark as a much better choice, but he doesn’t have anything like the charisma of his boss. If NZF goes with National and then Winston retires, I doubt the party would recover.

On the other hand, if he goes with Labour and elbows the Greens into the position of a support party outside of government, the Greens might end up with more leverage than they have now. The government would still rely on them to pass all its legislation, unless it can get support from National, but the Greens would not be bound by rules of cabinet responsibility. Labour could guarantee to support NZF legislative initiatives but not to pass them. Or it’s own for that matter, unless it ties the Greens into a closer arrangement than confidence and supply.

If the Greens were in a C&S arrangement with the government reliant on them for votes, they would have to use such power carefully and wisely. To be seen to be hamstringing the government would likely provoke a backlash. But what they could do is use the opportunity to strategically carve out a broader support base, by being seen to speak and exercise power on behalf of some new constituencies – ones that disrupt the left / right model of politics that they are currently trapped in.

Finally, it is a shame to see that the small parties are unable to talk together during coalition negotiations (and by all accounts it is Winston that refuses to entertain the possibility). NZF and Greens have plenty in common and no doubt by working strategically together they could achieve far bigger gains for both of them. Divide and rule is an old tactic but I don’t understand why anyone would play that trick on themselves.

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