If I were Winston, I'd resist the embrace of both National and Labour

by Bill Ralston / 05 October, 2017

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Winston Peters. Photo/Getty Images

Out on the political dance floor, the major parties are playing an anxious waiting game. 

When I was at school last century, I always loathed the balls and socials. Suffering from acne and a debilitating reticence with girls, I seldom had a partner to take. I usually contented myself with standing alone in the corner of the hall, next to the heavily spiked fruit punch, while trying to get up the courage to ask someone for a dance.

In a modern political sense, David Seymour and Act are like that, except no one will agree to dance with David at the parliamentary ball. I get the feeling that the Greens, Labour’s best friend forever, may once again be left a wallflower as Labour pursues the winsome Winston Peters. I recommend that Greens leader James Shaw starts hitting the punch. Meanwhile, that strumpet Winston, done up to the nines, is walking across the dance floor, haughtily spurning all suitors – at least until the band starts playing the last waltz.

The best thing about the long interregnum between the election and the painfully drawn-out process that will decide which parties form the next government is that very little will happen. The economy, as the heart of the nation, will continue to pump on. Journalists will be forced to write about other things during the lean period when public politicking goes into temporary hibernation.

During this blissful period, most of us will forget there isn’t a government and those who do remember will start wondering why we even need one when life is continuing so peacefully and well.

It always amazes me that minor parties consent to enter government with a larger party. The inevitable result is that they feel voters’ wrath at the next election. Remember what happened to the Alliance, or how New Zealand First was thrown out of Parliament? Or how under the last Government, United Future shrank to the point that its leader resigned before the election? Then there is the sad story of the Maori Party, which is now gone altogether.

If I were Winston, I’d resist the deadly embrace of both National and Labour and head for the cross benches, where he can pick and choose which legislation he wants to support and what favours he wants from the minority government that he gets to pick. With his support, it could be Labour or National.

That would be fun for six months until the big party that had his nod to form a government got fed up and trooped off to the Governor-General to demand a new election. At that point, Winston could flip his vote to the other big party and head off the risk of an election, thereby giving the other guys a run at leading the country with his backing.

The result would be fewer controversial laws going through the House and, aside from legislative lollies thrown to Winston, more frugality with taxpayer dollars. Yes, it’s hardly “strong and stable government”, but the reporters in Parliament’s Press Gallery would have a field day.

The only other option is a grand coalition of National and Labour, which makes absolute sense except for the unfortunate fact that neither wants to share its toys with the other. The two parties represent more than 80% of the vote and, frankly, it’s hard to fit a cigarette paper between their policies, but there just isn’t enough space around the Cabinet table to accommodate their combined egos.

Let us wait, then, for Winston.

This article was first published in the October 7, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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