John Armstrong: 'This was Peters' last chance. His last chance to get it right. He has got it right'

Winston Peters did not disappoint.

Last night's announcement of New Zealand First's choice of coalition partner - more especially the hours of chaos leading up to it - was exactly the kind of schemozzle to be expected of him on such occasions.

That dignity and decorum were in short supply was no surprise.

Winston Peters speech in the Beehive, where he announces the new NZ Government. Source: 1 NEWS

His party's decision to form a coalition government with Labour would have been a surprise, particularly for those on the left who did not dare to believe it was a possibility.

In the end, however, the choice was really no choice. Peters has signed up New Zealand First to be a fully-fledged member of the Coalition of the Losers.

When it comes to his self-interests, that is far more preferable to joining what odds-on would have ended up being a Coalition of the Cadavers.

Opting for National would not have been the politics of coalition co-operation. It would have been the politics of coalition capitulation.

It would have been capitulation to the many in New Zealand First's ranks whose unthinking conservatism would have made them feel far more comfortable propping up a rapidly tiring fourth-term National-led government than than backing a new vibrant, reform-minded Labour one.

It would have been capitulation to those in Peters' Party who cannot abide being associated with what they consider to be the suffocating loony-tunes political correctness of the Greens and significant elements of the Labour Party.

It is a brave decision.

And not least because Peters has finally determined that last month's election was a vote for change rather than - as the percentages of the vote won by the centre-right as against the centre-left seem more to suggest - a vote for continuity.

If things turn to custard - as Peters' questionable pessimism is already warning - there will be no prizes for guessing who will get most, if not all the blame.

The decision may yet prove to be the death of New Zealand First.

But there was no life in going with National even though that would have kept that party’s hands on the economic policy tiller.

Ms Ardern will lead NZ's next government after Winston Peters offered Labour his party's support. Source: 1 NEWS

Joining a governing arrangement with Labour should remove New Zealand First's blinkers.

It should help Peters' eventual successor to widen the party’s appeal. Whoever picks up that mantle is going to need all the help he can scrounge or scramble.

In that vein, this was Peters' last chance. This was his last chance to get it right.

This was his last chance to go down in the history as someone who proved he was capable of being be just as much a consummate politician when sitting on the Government benches in Parliament as he has unquestionably been the case during his long years in the Opposition's seats.

He had to get it right if he wanted his much talked about legacy to be meaningful. He has got it right.

Ignore the delays, the appearance of dilly-dallying and brinkmanship over such things as the allotment of Cabinet portfolios of recent days. They are of little consequence.

There is another reason why installing a Labour-led Government was the only decision Peters and his colleagues could make - one which he stressed heavily during his announcement last night.

Peters likes to talk about bottom-lines.

But there was one bottom-line not of his making which screamed for attention above the myriad of other competing pros and cons for opting for going with Labour or National.

Throughout his political career, Peters has railed against the neo-liberal, market-driven economic policies adopted by Labour in the 1980s and reinforced by National in the 1990s.

If anything, Peters’ denunciation of what he calls the "failed experiment" increased in both volume and acrimony during the recent election campaign.

He claimed that every other political party apart from New Zealand First had signed up to "irresponsible capitalism" - even the Greens.

Winston Peters has thrown his support behind a Labour-led government with Jacinda Ardern as PM. Source: 1 NEWS

He promised New Zealand First would confront the pervading economic ethos and put things right.

Given his mouthing of such sentiments, Peters would have been guilty of electoral betrayal of massive proportions had he opted for National.

It would also have amounted to self-betrayal on almost a similar scale.

It would have amounted to bottling out - something which Peters, for all his faults, has never been guilty.

Sure, he likely negotiated major policy concessions from National during the negotiations of the past week or so.

But National's willingness to do so would have been grudging.

Moreover, the back downs might well have proved to have been only temporary. Once Peters retired, National would have likely reverted to type.

Such a coalition might have been more stable in terms of numbers in Parliament, but in terms of trust, potential friction and fracture-lines it would have been a powder keg looking for a lighted match.

If Peters wants to leave a legacy as a constructive politician capable of major reform then that reform must stick.

There is much more chance of that being the case by working with Labour, whose policy prescription is more compatible by a country mile with New Zealand First's manifesto than National's economic orthodoxy.

What Peters has done is to take the first step in doing what he has long promised to do when it comes to reshaping New Zealand's economy.

It is only the first step. But it is a very big step.

And he has never looked quite as serious about ensuring that the steps get even bigger over coming months as he did last night.