Opinion: I ran into Winston Peters on Ponsonby Road a few days ago. Sorry to “out” you, Winston, but it was a nice chat in the sun. I could tell things were going well for him. There is a bounce in his step, which made me a bit jealous.
There are those who think Winston is just a charlatan who will do anything for votes. Not sure that greatly sets him apart from many other politicians even if true. But my view has always been, and he has never demurred, that he is simply an opportunist. He does have a set of core beliefs about the country. He will accumulate votes however he can to play a part in protecting those beliefs. There is a section of our people who relate to his beliefs as well as his persona. Our electoral system gives him an opportunity.
* Electoral review recommends 3.5% threshold, voting age of 16
* MMP and my part in the downfall of First Past the Post
* Quarter of a century of our MMP voting system
* The MMP dilemma: are you the lap dog or the tail?
It amuses me that commentators are so keen to identify parties who might be disruptive in a future government. This fear shifts around between Greens, Te Pāti Māori and now, prominently, NZ First. Act seems so firmly welded to its mothership that its attachment is not questioned. Quite why outsiders are seen as a threat when in recent years both major parties have shown a more-than-adequate proclivity for self-wounding is a mystery. It’s not obvious we should try to avoid restricting or pushing the major parties. Quite the opposite. I have seldom seen two institutions in bigger need of some real pressure from those with nearby views.
Bravery, mutual respect, inclusiveness and foresight are required aptitudes for those who would lead us. The best responses are not going to be delivered by people who just want no disruption, dissent, or debate. They will come from a process that features these things
This is pretty much what our proportional representation system was supposed to encourage. It offers better opportunities for minority political views to gain parliamentary representation, but this does open up “opportunities for opportunists”. There is no shortage of other small groups having a go, but so far none have shown the aptitude of the master opportunist. Neither, importantly, is there a source of support so far that is as well entrenched as Winston Peters’ base. This base is a national/colonial one at heart, traditionalist and genuinely conservative.
I don’t share this view. But I know it is not a hoax. It is not snake oil – his version has real ingredients.
Labour and National have both tried in recent decades to respond to the proportional representation impulse to some extent. (Though current candidate line-ups, on one side at least, is hardly going to win a diversity prize.) But they have done so in a misguided way. They have promoted the look and background of their team, rather than the diversity of political view, which is the main point of proportional representation.
One exception to this may be the Labour Māori caucus, though their readiness to respond to control from above so far disguises this. Prodded more by a stronger Te Pāti Māori and Green presence in Parliament, they might well find more of the courage of their convictions. Long live what the social scientists call a “nudge” but we Kiwis might call a “decent shove”.
I don’t fear uncertain and divided government if that is based on genuine debate and compromise concerning our major issues. The dangerous instability is not that so much as instability around fluctuating major party dominance in three yearly cycles.
That is what I keep telling business colleagues who become attracted to the neo-liberal siren calls in the political marketplace. Frankly, these are calls for major shifts in balance which are far more disruptive to long-term investment decisions than what are typically minor irksome restrictions on activity in today’s world. Most business needs stability and social cohesion to succeed even if the memory of how disruptive a free-market frenzy can be has faded. There were plenty of businesses broken in the 1980s.
Though one should not overemphasise it to a point of despair there is a heightened level of insecurity and concern evident in our society. It would be extremely odd if it were not so with the many global concerns we are part of and the forms they take here.
Bravery, mutual respect, inclusiveness and foresight are required aptitudes for those who would lead us. The best responses are not going to be delivered by people who just want no disruption, dissent, or debate. They will come from a process that features these things. Ideally it is an election process that does this but I’m not holding my breath.
That’s one of the big things I like about youthful activism in Te Pāti Māori, Greens, TOP etc. Not toeing the line but stepping over it.
Old guys like Winston and me won’t solve it. Not in the sun on Ponsonby Road anyway.