If Winston Peters thinks that depicting himself as the victim of National Party “dirty tricks” is going to be sufficient to revitalise his flagging electoral campaign, then he is surely going to be disappointed.
To understand why, he need only look in the mirror. His younger self will be staring right back at him.
As is currently the case with Jacinda Ardern, the younger Peters enjoyed periods when his popularity was so sky-high that he was untouchable. To attack him was to risk inviting a plague of frogs to take up residence in your lounge. It was simply not worth your trouble going there.
Source: 1 NEWS
Like National, Peters has been flummoxed as to how to counter the Ardern phenomenon.
Unlike Bill English, Peters has found himself marginalised as the election has turned into a two-horse race — and perhaps irrevocably so.
This week, however, the veteran of New Zealand politics pulled himself out of his Slough of Despond with the assistance of an inept attempt to embarrass him.
Whoever leaked the information that Peters had been paid the state pension at a higher rate than to which he was entitled failed to think things through.
It is difficult to make a scandal out of someone who responded swiftly when told he was being paid more than he should have been getting and who met with officials from the Ministry of Social Development and paid back the money to their satisfaction and thereby resolved the matter.
Whoever leaked the information made a further tactical gaffe by seeming to be unaware of Peters’ ability to transform what initially might be regarded as a personal disaster into something to his advantage.
Peters has shrewdly exploited every angle possible to keep alive a story which he has simultaneously dismissed as a beat-up.
The leaker does not seem to have given much thought to the timing of the disclosure. Peters had been buried under the Ardern landslide.
The leak extended a hand which Peters did not hesitate in grabbing.
For the first time since Ardern became Labour’s leader, she had to play second fiddle to someone else.
Peters is back in the headlines. But is he back in the election campaign?
Barely a month ago Peters was the election campaign. He was barn-storming the country and issuing spending promises like confetti.
He was being just as profligate in listing supposed non-negotiable bottom-lines from which New Zealand First would not budge during post-election talks on the formation of the next government.
Peters’ prime objective was to collapse Labour’s vote to the point that New Zealand First could lay claim to the title of major Opposition party —and thus enabling Peters to extract the concession of him serving a stint as prime minister.
Peters’ frenetic activity was against a backdrop of fear —the fear of politicians of other complexions who had been bracing themselves for voter rebellion on the scale which had seen Donald Trump installed in the White House and Britain exiting the European Union.
National pinned its hopes on surviving any such backlash by virtue of a strong local economy and dealing with any gripe voters might have, no matter how trivial or unjustified.
In the absence of any other contenders, it was assumed Peters would be the local equivalent of Brexit Man or Trump Clone.
After all, he had already successfully auditioned for the role by winning the Northland byelection.
He had all the right attributes for the job.
Like Trump, he is a master of lowest common denominator politics. Like Trump, he is a virtuoso when it comes to communicating with voters.
At the same time he can bellow rhetoric at Nigel Farage-like volume.
He also possesses the cheek, charm and chuckle of a Boris Johnson which enables him to disarm opponents.
There were two things, however, which jarred with this scenario. Backing for New Zealand First in opinion polls was rising, but not at a rate to suggest any huge change in the political landscape.
The other thing was that the hype was all a little bit pat and little bit contrived.
It lacked the crucial element of surprise.
Then along came the real surprise package in the form of Ardern. She had the one thing so obviously lacking in Peters’ armoury — freshness.
That is the thing which voters in the United States, Canada, Britain and France were searching for. And, moreover, without much regard as to whether it was sourced from the left, right or centre of the political spectrum.
How galling it must it be for Peters to have been usurped by a policy wonk and Wellington-centric apparatchik — the very sort of political animal which has permanently been in his sights during his four decades in politics.
Peters can console himself that New Zealand First is still likely to hold the balance of power following the election.
But it is also becoming clear that the leverage he will be able to exercise in post-election negotiations is going to be markedly less than seemed likely prior to Labour’s big gamble of changing its leader.
Peters retains one important political asset —New Zealand First’s highly distinctive brand as an anti-immigration party.
Peters has barely raised the issue so far in this campaign.
If he continues to struggle for attention, you can put money on that particular drum getting a real beating this side of Election Day.