Winston Peters plays to his strengths in the Act Party heartland of Remuera, less than 24 hours after calling its local MP his “imitator” 

In 1996 at the age of 11, a motorised toy car I was driving on stage in a school play inexplicably cut out. No one was coming to help me and the theatre was silent. I had no recourse but to try to get a laugh, so I got out, put my boot into the door and loudly blamed Winston Peters. 

Of course, I didn’t really know anything about Winston Peters at the time, or know any good reason he’d be responsible for my electrical failure, but during what was this country’s first MMP election it felt like everyone was talking about him – and, 27 years later, we still are. 

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And so it was on Friday, deep inside Act leader David Seymour’s territory at the Remuera Club in Auckland, the NZ First leader took his place at the matinee session pulpit and preached to his choir. 

Despite having been on the calendar before Thursday night’s Newshub powerbrokers debate, Peters’ choice of venue could be seen as a subtle dig at semi-rival-slash-begrudging-potential-coalition-partner, Seymour, whom he called an “imitator” and whom – as some saw it – he outperformed. 

Peters doubled down on points he made in that debate about co-governance (it’s racist), wealth tax (it’s communist), and climate change (very much a problem for India, China and the US). At one point he waved around a printed Stuff article in which he’d been cropped out of the photo to show how the media treated him – a man sidelined, a man alone.

There was no mention of his claim, repeated again at the debate and rubbished by Bill English overnight, that he went with Labour in 2017 because the former National leader told him he himself was expecting to be rolled. 

Peters was much more focused on his core messages: democracy is hanging by a thread; the Government has put the economy in the toilet; crime and the woke elite have ruined the country – and, for the love of god, leave superannuation alone. He reheated his jibe about the election being between “one leader eating a sausage roll and the other eating a pie” as part of a tirade on a campaign with a serious leadership problem in a country that was “all rights and no obligations”. 

Confidence seemed to be running high that NZ First would be the only party to put things right. 

And maybe it should be – Newsroom’s polling average has New Zealand First on 5 percent and returning to Parliament.

One leader who might have been nodding his head at some of Peters’ points had he been there was Auckland’s Mayor Wayne Brown. 

It’s doubtful Brown would have agreed with the characterisation of our biggest city as a “lawless wreck”, but Peters’ complaints about the negative impact of Wellington’s interference – the focus of Brown’s 15-page recently-released manifesto for the next government – likely would have resonated. 

Dubbing Auckland the “City of Snails”, Peters laughed at the Government’s tunnel ambitions and ghost light rail, then mocked the time frames to build any of National and Labour’s promised new roads. “Nine years! Do you think any of you will be using them?” he pitched at his white-haired fans.  

“It’s time to get back to the basics, and real fast!”

Peters seemed keen to position himself as one of the, if not the only, honest politicians on the circuit, invoking the Winebox Inquiry several times, as “the only person who ever did anything about tax evasion”. 

The 1992 investigation, spearheaded by Peters, into claims of corruption and incompetence in the IRD and Serious Fraud Office found no grounds to support the allegations. Even so, Peters, whose party has had its own brushes with the SFO (two men connected to the party were tried and acquitted of deception in the High Court in Auckland last year, a ruling now being appealed by the Crown), still had some choice words. 

“The Serious Fraud Office is a serious fraud itself.”

He said there was “not one word in the media” about NZ First’s (or at least that of its entirely independent NZ First Foundation’s) initial victory, but you can read about that here. “That’s filth, ladies and gentlemen.” 

So, asked an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair, when did Peters intend to retire? 

“Unlike you, I don’t act my age.” 

Whether he’s in or out come October 14, Winston Peters won’t be going gently into any good night.

Cass Mason is Newsroom's news director.

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