Opinion: Labour is showing NZ First that it calls the shots

Those still worried that the New Zealand First tail will wag the Labour dog should relax.

Source: 1 NEWS

On the evidence so far, Labour is the party that is calling the coalition shots — as it jolly well should be doing given it outnumbers Winston Peters’ party by more than six MPs to one in the current Parliament.

The latest indication that Labour is very much in charge sprang from Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States would be shifting its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

While other governments wasted little time in firmly denouncing the decision as further jeopardising the already minute chances of Israelis and Palestinians concluding a peace settlement, there was a long silence from this neck of the global woods.

When Peters finally did comment in his capacity as Foreign Minister, he suggested the decision was America’s to make.

New Zealand First may hold the Foreign Affairs portfolio, but that party’s interest in foreign policy is roughly less than zero. 

It comes after the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Source: 1 NEWS

The exact opposite is the case within Labour. Many members of that party would already have been concerned with earlier signs of Peters’ pro-Israel leanings and would have been horrified to hear him give what was effectively a tacit endorsement of Trump’s decision.

The Prime Minister came right over the top of Peters, however.

Jacinda Ardern declared the effective recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would “make things difficult” in terms of reaching a peace settlement. By this morning, Peters had obediently swung in behind Ardern by acknowledging shifting the embassy did not help peace efforts.

It would be interesting to know what advice, if any, the Prime Minister received from David Parker in her handling of the matter.

Along with Andrew Little, who is proving to be an inspired choice in the Justice portfolio, Parker has become one of the stand-out performers in the new Administration.

The long-serving MP, whose portfolios include Economic Development, Trade and Export Growth, the Environment and Associate Finance, has had the profile-raising advantage of being one of the ministers making announcements on the implementation of items included in Labour’s 100 Day Action Plan.

These set-pieces displayed what some observers would perceive to be a potentially counter-productive show of bolshiness on Parker’s behalf.

His mood and tone indicated that he thinks humouring Peters does little for Labour when the coalition partners are not in agreement.

That is death by a thousand cuts.

It is better to use such friction to preserve and even strengthen Labour’s identity — especially as the party’s moderate middle-of-the-road positioning makes it harder to build its brand than is the case for New Zealand First and the Greens, Labour’s other partner in government.

Parker’s preference for putting the preservation of Labour’s identity first and foremost was evident in New Zealand First appearing to have been kept well out of sight when it came to Parker’s  announcements of the ban on house sales to foreigners and the tightening up of restrictions on the purchase of rural land by overseas interests.

Those announcements could have come straight out of New Zealand First’s manifesto.

As far as Parker was concerned, however, these were Labour policies. Full stop. End of story.

Parker was even more provocative following the surfacing of a legal opinion produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

This document declared that imposing a royalty on exports of bottled water — as agreed by Labour and New Zealand First in their coalition deal —world be in breach of New Zealand’s trade agreements with other nations.

Peters poo-poohed the legal opinion. Parker made it plain that if there was a problem with fulfilling the commitment to impose a royalty, it was New Zealand First’s fault. 

Parker noted Labour’s election policy had been to put a price on all water, including bottled water for export. That policy position had not survived coalition talks, he added with a degree of sarcasm.

Parker’s decrying of New Zealand First’s failure to do its homework was justified. But it went beyond the boundaries of coalition etiquette.

Parker is in dangerous territory. Treating Peters in such fashion risks retaliation.

It follows the script National has written for the new Government and its component parties.

The major Opposition party’s current strategy is to highlight every apparent difference of opinion between the governing parties as a symptom of chaos within and yet more proof that the whole governing structure as unworkable.

The Deputy Prime Minister said New Zealand First chose a "harder path of change". Source: 1 NEWS

National’s latest effort to drive a wedge between the coalition partners followed Shane Jones’ promotion of a work-for-the-dole scheme, one complete with sanctions applying to those unemployed who fail to show up for work.

Ardern’s response was to insist that any government work scheme would not be a work-for-the-dole scheme because those participating would be paid the minimum wage. 

In Ardern’s view, it would be more than useful if some means was found to give New Zealand First and the Greens more room to express their differences with Labour —but in a way which was not to the detriment of the Government’s “cohesive agenda” overall.

Somewhat ironically, however, events have conspired to make that unnecessary in the case of the current government.

Parker can keep pinging Peters because the later has nowhere to go were his party’s coalition with Labour to collapse.

Peters and his colleagues could slink off to Parliament’s cross-benches, only to become even less relevant and even more trapped.

He could force an election, but would be heavily punished by voters were he to do so.

Having initiated legal proceedings against three senior National MPs for them allegedly being party to the leaking of details of the overpayments he received since becoming eligible for the state pension, he could hardly go knocking on Bill English’s door.

Blinded by pride, Peters’ decision to drag his opponents into court may turn out to be a huge blunder on his part regardless of the outcome.

It leaves him with little option but to stick with Labour come hell or high water.

Quite simply, Labour has Peters exactly where it wants him — on a tight leash, feebly whimpering and going nowhere.