John Armstrong: Will 25 years of Winston Peters' mischief, mishaps and mayhem as NZ First leader have a swansong beyond 2020?

So much for Winston Peters' first 25 years in the job.

The big question now is what mixture of mischief, mishaps and mayhem will be unleashed by him during his next quarter century as New Zealand First's leader.

Only joking. Well, not entirely.

The notion that the 73-year-old might serve for another 25 years as leader is well and truly in the realm of the utterly ridiculous. But don't let him hear you saying that.

As much as Wednesday's anniversary of the official launch of Peters' party back in 1993 focused on something in the past, it was entirely predictable that it would draw attention to questions regarding the long-term prognosis for New Zealand First.

The questions were ones which Peters was at pains to deflect, namely when will he step down as leader, when will he quit politics altogether and —most crucially of all — how long would New Zealand First survive as a going concern without him at its helm.

The party's marking of its birthday was accordingly somewhat subdued — less celebration and more like commemoration.

In the interviews he gave this week, Peters played a dead bat to questions about his eventual stepping down as leader and ultimately his exit from Parliament and the National political stage.

Those asking the questions had been around the political traps long enough not to waste precious interview time in the vain hope of getting meaningful answers.

When the no small matter of his political longevity was broached, it was clear he had determined that he would be dragged into a slanging match.

The last thing Peters would have wanted to happen is for the anniversary to to turn into an informal referendum on how much longer he should remain New Zealand First's one and only leader.

The tactic worked. Such a debate has not occurred.

There was further reason why Peters broke his habit of a lifetime and instead made a special effort to avoid saying or doing anything which might have provoked unwanted argument.

Peters' handling of last year's coalition negotiations impressed no-one and angered many.

There was great indignation that a minor party which captured a paltry 7.2 per cent of the vote compared to the 44.4 per cent and 36.9 per cent registered by National and Labour respectively was dictating the course and detail of the coalition talks.

Peters' reward for using the system to his party's gain —as he was perfectly entitled to do — was to be put on notice by those who saw it as somehow unfair and undemocratic that he had once again ended becoming the kingmaker despite his party coming perilously close to falling below the 5 per cent threshold.

Peters' soon-to-end stint as Acting Prime Minister has served as an opportunity to seek redemption. He has not wasted it.

Boasting about New Zealand First's policy gains both current and past would have jarred with the business-as-usual mood he has sought to create during the weeks that he has been the face of the Government.

He has also left the clear impression that he will be the one calling the shots in his party for as long as he deems he is fit in mind and body to do so.

The blunt question which demands an unequivocal reply both from Peters, his parliamentary colleagues and New Zealand First's wider membership is what age should be the retirement age for a politician, assuming there should be one at all.

In that vein, Peters might observe that his famous namesake, Winston Churchill, was prime minister until he was 81 and did not leave Parliament before making it to his 90th birthday.

Peters will only be able to resist relinquishing the monopoly rights on decision-making that he has enjoyed by virtue of his being both the founder of New Zealand First and sole reason for the party's existence for as long as he has continuing pulling power when it comes to winning over voters.

That power will inevitably wane as he ages and his core support among the elderly literally dies off while, at the same time, he becomes irrelevant to more and more voters who will regard the battles he has fought as ancient history.

If Peters is serious about New Zealand First having a future, it is incumbent upon him to transform the party into a modern institution which is seen to be democratic rather than just claiming to be so.

The days when Peters could afford to run the party as a political fiefdom are numbered.

The longer the party remains a personality cult, the greater the likelihood of its members simply walking away.

Peters does not need to be told all this. He understands the unwritten tiles of politics better than anyone.

But that does not mean he will necessarily follow them.

He will have no truck with speculation about him not continuing as leader. To do so would only undermine and diminish his authority.

Even the mere flagging of the possibility that he might be prepared to contemplate not standing for Parliament again would leave him weakened.

It is quite likely anyway that he has yet to determine when he should quit politics.

He is on-record as not ruling out a life post-politics. But that was said from the unfulfilling vantage point of Opposition.

He has since found himself in a position of power and influence, the levels of which are higher than he has ever enjoyed during previous stints on the government benches in Parliament.

He appears to be in rude good health. His energy seems boundless. There is no obvious reason why he should not have one more chance to lead his New Zealand First troops into the battle of an election.

Ironically, if the opinion polls are looking terrible for New Zealand First, a rekindling of the Peters' magic might be the only means of saving the party from oblivion.

Ultimately, trying to anticipate what he will do is a guessing game — and thus a mug's game.

The only thing that can be guaranteed is that he will keep the country guessing for as long as he can get away with doing so.

New Zealand’s third-largest political party is celebrating its 25th birthday. Source: 1 NEWS


It's 'a crisis' for National as Jami-Lee Ross launches 'the most extraordinary attack' on Simon Bridges, says Bryce Edwards

Political analyst Bryce Edwards says National MP Jami-Lee Ross' criticism of Simon Bridges has been the most extraordinary attack by an MP on their own party's leader he's seen in New Zealand politics.

Unleashing a barrage of serious allegations at a media stand-up today, Mr Ross said Mr Bridges ordered him to cover up a $100,000 donation from a Chinese businessman by splitting it up so it didn't have to be declared. 

Mr Ross even released photos to show the party leader and businessman together.  

Calling Mr Bridges a corrupt politician, the MP also claimed he's got a recorded conversation as evidence and is taking it to police tomorrow. 

What has happened may well be unprecedented. 

"It's been the most extraordinary attack on your own party's leader that I've seen in New Zealand politics," Dr Edwards told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

"This is real House of Cards stuff where you have lots of conniving and ambitious MPs that are backstabbing each other to get to the top. I think there's a mixture of knives being placed in the back and the front," he said.

The Botany MP has quit Parliament and accuses Simon Bridges of electoral fraud. Source: 1 NEWS

Before Mr Bridges announced the caucus had voted to expel Mr Ross, the MP announced he's resigning from Parliament, forcing a by-election in his Botany seat, which he'll contest as an independent.

Mr Ross' string of bombshells came a day after Mr Bridges, following an investigation, named Mr Ross as the leaker of his travel expenses.

"Jami-Lee Ross was operating in a deceptive way when he leaked this information, when he took on Simon Bridges," Dr Edwards said.

"It was later when he had nowhere else to turn, that he started to be more open about his descent against the National Party leader." 

But Dr Edwards said at the centre of all this, there's nothing.

"It's devoid of principles. There's no great ideological struggles. It really is the modern emptiness of politics." 

Jami-Lee Ross is now out of National but, as former National party whip, still very much in the know. 

Asked does Mr Ross have the power to bring down Simon Bridges, Dr Edwards said: "He's got a lot of dirt that he might be able to dish."

He said: "Jami-Lee Ross knows where all the bodies are buried. He knows what all the MPs have done wrong in the past. He knows lots of embarrassing details, not only about Simon Bridges but about other National Party insiders, other politicians."

1 NEWS’ Katie Bradford takes a look at Mr Ross’ chances of keeping his seat. Source: 1 NEWS

Dr Edwards said National will need to try and find a way to make Jami-Lee Ross "disappear".

"And by that I mean give him some sort of pay off or reward.

"This is why it's a crisis, because they might be able to get rid of Jami-Lee Ross, but he can throw a lot of dirt from outside the party," the political analyst said.

The Botany MP has been expelled from caucus, while he alleges Simon Bridges committed electoral fraud – which Mr Bridges denies. Source: Seven Sharp


Loud bangs heard at Christchurch house surrounded by armed police

Several loud bangs have been heard at a house surrounded by armed police in Christchurch tonight. 

About 20 police officers have been outside the house on Gilberthorpes Rd, Hei Hei, for several hours. 

A witness says he heard a couple of bangs - possibly stun grenades - go off in the house around 6pm and several more around 8pm.

He says officers have put gas marks on and "look like they're about to storm the house".

The witness says officers are now on the property and have been using a loudspeaker to warn whoever is inside the house that they're going to come in.

The police have said officers had a "pre-planned search warrant".

They would not comment on whether that search warrant was related to the fatal shooting of Luke Riddell at Charing Cross on Saturday. 

Police cordon on Gilberthorpes Rd, Christchurch.
Police cordon on Gilberthorpes Rd, Christchurch. Source: 1 NEWS


Wellington cycleway repair to cost $4 million more

A 1.7 kilometre cycleway in Wellington that cost about $1.8 million to build, has been estimated to cost $10 million to fix.

Wellington city councillors today asked council officers how much it would cost to change the Island Bay cycleway to appease residents.

The plan, considered by many as a compromise between residents and council, was signed off in September 2017.

It was put on hold while the council applied for $24 million of Government funding for a wider cycleway between Island Bay and the city, that would include the controversial stretch.

Councillor Nicola Young, who has consistently opposed the cycleway, asked officers at a meeting today how much it would cost to fix the 1.7km of cycleway that already existed, and was told it could be $4 million more than the $6 million put aside.

However, the council would not know for sure until the project had gone out to tender.

The estimated price tag was a very expensive fix for something that cost less that $2 million to build, councillor Andy Foster said.

"It's a very expensive remediation to spend more than four times as much as what was spent in the first place. In my books, you're not building the same thing at all."

The fix included not just resealing the road, but a high quality transformation of the stretch of road, council officers said.

- By Radio New Zealand's Laura Dooney

The community is calling for a return to the pre-cycleway design that wouldn't see carparks removed. Source: Breakfast

Serious crash causes forces closure of part of Wellington Urban Motorway

A serious crash involving a motorbike has forced the closure of the northbound lanes on Wellington's Urban Motorway.

Police say the crash was reported at 7pm and the motorway is closed northbound between the Terrace Tunnel and the Tinakori Road on-ramp.