Winston Peters has refloated claims then-National leader Bill English confided in him at the start of 2017’s coalition negotiations that he was about to be “rolled” as National leader – and that was one reason New Zealand First opted to put Jacinda Ardern’s Labour into power.

Peters made the claim on live TV on Thursday night during the Newshub Nation ‘powerbrokers’ debate, a claim he had also made in an interview with Newsroom and in an article in 2022.

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Asked by host Rebecca Wright if people could trust him to negotiate with the party that won the biggest vote at the election, Peters said: “Excuse me, excuse me you don’t understand why we didn’t go with the majority vote in 2017 do you?”

Wright: “Will you go with it this time?”

Peters: “No you don’t understand how critical it was because I was talking to a man who in his first conversation with me says they are about to roll me.”

Last month, Peters volunteered the same, unverifiable claim to Newsroom in a sit down interview. 

“I’d only just walked into the room and English pulled me aside and told me that there could be a coup and he could be about to get rolled.

Asked who was supposedly being lined up to take over, Peters said “Judith Collins.”

He defended his decision to take his votes elsewhere, to a Labour Party that had attracted 37 percent of the 2017 vote to National’s 45 percent, by saying: “How could I negotiate with someone who might not be there in a few weeks? Ring him up and see what he says, he won’t deny it, he can’t.”

Last night Newsroom asked English and he not only denied it, he slammed it.

In a text, English said: “Deny. It’s a ridiculous claim.”  Pressed for more, he said: “Mr Peters’ claim is a fabrication.”

The former National leader went a step further, suggesting Peters’ claim now “indicates he could find a reason to go with Labour again after this election”.

That, Peters has ruled out, claiming that during that 2017-2020 government Labour deliberately withheld sensitive information on the He Puapua report and co-governance plans from New Zealand First.

The claim at the Newshub debate shows how keen Peters remains – and perhaps how sensitive a subject it remains out there for some of his core voters – to justify why he put Ardern into power six years ago.

Peters with Labour’s Helen Clark, Governor-General Sylvia Cartwright and United Future leader Peter Dunne at the swearing-in of the 2005 government. Photo: Getty Images

He first floated the English-about-to-get-rolled claim a year ago in a Herald story, reacting to a claim in the book Blue Blood that the reason he went with Labour was because of the bauble of being Deputy Prime Minister.

In his first time as a coalition partner, in the Bolger National-led government of 1996-99, Peters saw the man he had negotiated with be deposed by Jenny Shipley for the National leadership to become Prime Minister, and was scarred by that. That coalition broke down as a result.

In Thursday night’s debate, Peters said he could be a trusted partner. “Go and ask Helen Clark and Jim Bolger whether I can be trusted.”

Last night Clark, from New York where she is busy with meetings around the UN General Assembly, texted: “Helen Clark said the relationship she and Winston Peters had when they were in government together was always professional and based on mutual respect.”

Peters gave his broadest indication at the debate that he could work with Act and its leader David Seymour if necessary to form a government but Seymour was less outwardly collegial, saying parties had to deal with what the public delivered them and then questioning if Peters should get another turn in power.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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