Simon Bridges’ Big Call on Winston Peters

What does Simon Bridges do about finding a coalition partner? Does he do what John Key did and refuse to deal with NZ First? Or does he offer NZ First an olive branch? Perhaps he does what he is doing at the moment, which is sitting on the fence, undecided as to what exactly he should do, a year out from the next election?

From my perspective, Winston appears to be making any overtures from National almost impossible. Every time I see Winston on TV, he is denigrating, if not overtly insulting, the National party, and Simon Bridges in particular. I am aware that coalition negotiations go on behind closed doors, but it is hard to imagine that Winston was genuinely negotiating with Bill English after the last election when he was quietly working on suing most of the senior National party members. Since then, his disdain for anything in blue has been out there for all to see. Why would anyone think that Winston might be prepared to do a deal with National?

It seems that Matthew Hooton does.

A year before the election campaign, it’s odds-on that when all’s said and done, NZ First will again choose the Prime Minister.
This would be a first. Since the advent of MMP, no small party has broken the 5 per cent threshold after joining a coalition. This time, both NZ First and the Greens are on track to make it.

Not so fast, Matthew Hooton. NZ First has struggled in the polls and popping their head above the 5% threshold on the first poll taken after the Christchurch massacre is not a guarantee of anything. I am not writing them off completely, and Winston is the ultimate survivor, but this might be the end for NZ First. This time, they made promises they did not keep, and their voters are going to hold them to account.

On immigration, despite pre-election promises by Labour, NZ First and the Greens to cut numbers, a massive 106,000 immigrants arrived from countries other than New Zealand and Australia in the year to April 30, over 8000 more than in each of the previous two years.
This might embarrass Peters but it also means his perennial issue remains available to him, with Labour and the Greens able to be blamed.

I considered voting for NZ First in 2017 because of immigration, and when they came into power, I was glad that, if nothing else, immigration would be brought under control. That has not happened, and I just don’t see how Winston can go down the same road again, having broken that promise when he has railed about immigration for years.

If it is back next year, NZ First is adamant it plans to hold coalition negotiations with Labour and National to extract the best deal.

Yeah, he said that last time… but how much good faith went into the negotiations in 2017 is questionable. This time, with his overt disdain of anything National, I would not make any assumptions about objective negotiations.

Unless Bridges can achieve what Key failed to do, and secure a majority on his own, NZ First is National’s only plausible path to power.

Then National is doomed… because Winston would have to do a massive about-face to come to a deal with National.

Characteristic of his leadership style, Bridges is stuck in the middle, with National still publicly and privately disparaging Peters and his colleagues, risking their post-election ire, while not securing the supposed gains from ruling them out.

It’s a tough one, but if I could give one piece of advice to Simon Bridges, this would be it. Winston Peters has dragged you through the mud at every opportunity. Why would you want to try to do a deal with him?

Declaring NZ First beyond the pale is usually seen as the bolder move. Were it taken seriously, Peters would be reduced to arguing a vote for NZ First is merely a vote to balance the Greens in an Ardern Government, but his power over Labour would immediately evaporate.

This is a reason to refuse to do a deal with them if nothing else. Even today (Friday), Winston was running down Paul Goldsmith. I had thought his particular acrimony only extended to Simon Bridges, seeing that Bill English was gone. Goldsmith is one of the new generation of National MPs… and Winston is as denigrating as ever.

The more innovative approach would be to accept that neither a Key-style pledge nor a target of governing alone is credible, and that waffling over the NZ First question will prove unsustainable as the election nears.
Better, then, to embrace reality early and declare that NZ First is National’s preferred coalition partner. Peters would have no choice but to go along with it or render himself impotent, not just after the election but in the current Coalition’s remaining year.
Immediately and after the next set of polls, Bridges would be seen as a more credible potential PM.

I have my doubts. I just can’t see Winston bowing down and playing nice. It would create an about-face that would be unprecedented, particularly for Winston, and would cause most of his voters to doubt his credibility even further.

Moreover, bringing into focus that NZ First is equally likely to support National or Labour would start to drain Ardern’s authority as Prime Minister and create division within her Government.
Underlying everything is that a National-NZ First Coalition is in fact perfectly plausible.
Ardern and Peters are highly respectful of one another’s position but there is no friendship or affection beyond that. With the exception of Tracey Martin, the NZ First caucus is more comfortable with National MPs than their current Labour and Green colleagues.

A Newspaper.

This would be true if Winston did not take every opportunity to trash anything and everything that National says and does… right up to today. He displays an emphatic dislike for the National party. It might be just game playing… but if so, I would say that Winston has overplayed his hand. Surely even Winston knows that he would lose a lot of credibility over this?

Like it or not, it looks as if Simon Bridges is going to be the National leader at the next election. NZ First voters who expected Winston to go with National will desert the party after 2017. It depends on how many voters Winston has left. If he doesn’t make it over the 5% threshold, it is game on. I think this is a very real possibility next year.