Opinion: A mellowing Winston Peters is showing a disturbing tendency towards being reasonable

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Will the bona fide Winston Peters please stand up. There appears to be a counterfeit version on the loose.

The phoney dead-ringer possesses all the physical attributes of the real thing. But the double has a chronic condition which has only rarely been witnessed in the genuine article.

The clone is prone to sudden bouts of downright reasonableness and out-of-character mellowness.

Before going any further down this track, it must be stressed that any behaviour modification on Peters' part should be viewed in strictly relative terms.

We are talking about changes that happen only glacially.

Source: 1 NEWS

There is an inherent danger in drawing conclusions about Peters' political behaviour. He takes a perverse pleasure in proving wrong anyone who makes such assumptions.

His proclivity for venting vituperation on a volcanic scale regardless of whether the matter in contention is big or small remains undiminished.

He continues to treat any media interview as an excuse for an impromptu bout of verbal arm-wrestling.

His bark is as loud as ever. As is his bite.

Just ask the hapless Auditor-General.

Peters has shown Martin Matthews all the sympathy of a Great White circling its prey. But Peters was absolutely correct. Matthews had to stand down.

The latter's failure over a number of days to realise that he must do so, if only temporarily, while a State Services Commission inquiry probes his handling of the fraud - perpetrated by one of his senior managers while he was heading the Ministry of Transport - displayed a constitutional ignorance which instantly disqualified him from being suitable for the role of Parliament's financial watchdog.

Thankfully, if belatedly, he has now seen sense and has stood down while an investigation takes place.

Mr Peters shares his views on why he think the immigration rate should be cut substantially, and what requirements there should be for new migrants.
Source: Q+A

Furthermore, his failure to scrutinise Joanne Harrison's activities despite being warned by other ministry staff that things were seriously awry screams the obvious - that Matthews is completely the wrong person to be handed such a vital investigative role.

When it comes to bite on wider matters of state, however, Peters seems to be holding something back.

With the start of the election campaign barely three months away, few would bet against him emerging as the coalition king-maker once the votes have been counted on September 23.

That is a role which is his to lose. He has previously peaked too early in some election campaigns he has fought.

He won't make that mistake this time.

He looks relaxed. He seems more focussed than ever in the run-up to what must surely be the 72-year-old's final fling on the hustings - one which could bring big rewards for his party.

His mood suggests his irascibility, which has been the indelible hallmark of his 33 years in Parliament, is on the wane.

The most frustrating politician in New Zealand history no longer deserves to carry that soubriquet.

He is instead in serious danger of being bestowed with elder statesman status.

That is the inevitable fate awaiting a parliamentarian of Peters' vintage no matter how much he or she has been a hell-raiser in the House.

It is a title that sits uncomfortably alongside Peters' traditional role as the politician leading the Charge of the Angry Brigade.

But the legions of Grey Power adherents who have kept New Zealand First alive as a political force are ever shrinking in number.

When voter backing of Peters' party was at its zenith back in 1996, there were more than 420,000 people aged 65 or over. When the 2013 census was carried out, those people, if they were still alive, would have been 82 or older. They would have numbered around 74,000 at best.

The baby-boomers replacing them in retirement come from the most liberal-minded of post-war generations. They despise Peters. They despise his politics.

His prediction of some kind of electoral shock being in store for New Zealanders along the lines of Brexit will only make them despise him even more.

It is difficult to gauge where that shock will strike - if at all.

Peters may have the populist policies which make his agenda almost a carbon copy of Donald Trump.

But any advantage that populism bestows can often be wiped out by heavy doses of pragmatism.

Under John Key and now Bill English, National has done just that wherever and whenever trouble strikes.

Bill English said Mr Peters has been using similar tactics for a long time, and that they are designed to get attention.
Source: 1 NEWS

English's pre-election priority is to shore up National's support in the provinces. Today's Budget will be analysed intently for evidence of that.

The areas outside metropolitan New Zealand are where Peters is looking to make his biggest gains.

But National's relentless oiling of politically squeaky wheels may well mean those votes may have to come at Labour's expense rather than that of the ruling party.

In order to woo Labour-leaning voters, Peters must persuade them that he is serious about working with Labour and the Greens in some form of governing arrangement.

They won't vote for New Zealand First if they think doing so will end up helping National to stay in power

Surprise, surprise then that in a speech last Sunday, Peters slammed National's "deliberate underfunding" of the Conservation Department's efforts to save threatened native species and National's "disgraceful" track record regarding moves to curb climate change.

Peters may at times resemble the likes of Marine Le Pen, France's far right failed presidential candidate. Such positioning may give him greater flexibility to do and say what he wants.

The lingering desire to remain unconstrained was vividly displayed by the vow he made just two months ago to repeal the so-called anti-smacking law.

It was antediluvian politics in the extreme. It prompted a truly withering response from the woman who brought that law before Parliament.

Sue Bradford wisely chose ridicule ahead of self-righteousness as her weapon of choice.

She roasted Peters alive, labelling him a "dangerous old man" who was "really past his prime".

It was the kind of acidic put down which would have left even Peters' ultra-thick hide smarting.

Regardless, Peters' talk of scrapping the law was an excursion down a dead-end street - one which few wish to revisit.

Like Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen's nemesis, Peters may find far richer pickings await him in the political centre.

That may be another reason he is behaving ever more like a graduate of Charm School rather than a drop-out from Reform School.

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