State of the Parties: New Zealand First report card
OPINION: Newshub's politics team has taken a good hard look at New Zealand's political parties and ranked them in key areas - beginning with NZ First.
Dictatorship... errr, I mean Leadership: B+
Being called a dictator will boil Winston Peters' blood, but there's an element of truth to it. He created the party, he runs the party, he controls the party and rubber stamps the candidates. He IS the party. He has been at the helm for nearly 25 years, and he'll probably be there for another 25. No one will roll him. While the party is very stable under his leadership, it only exists because of his leadership. The party suffers from a political disease called Successionitis: Winston is the party, the party is him - and as soon as he's gone, the party will die. Ron Mark is trying to build his brand as the leader-designate, but he lacks Winston's gravitas and quick wit. No one else in the party has any leadership potential. There's talk of Shane Jones coming on board, but that ship is only just being tugged out of port.
Stale. Wilted. Dusty. There's nothing fresh or new or exciting here. There are only two policies Winston First... I mean New Zealand First is known for: blocking immigrants, and looking after seniors (unless they're immigrants). The party will immediately restrict immigration, and migrants will only get superannuation once they've been here for 25 years. If you go to any Winston Peters speech, you are guaranteed to hear talk about the SuperGold Card, and how he's the only one looking out for seniors. Other policies include building 'railways of national significance' and raising the minimum wage to $17. There are scores of other policies, but they are unlikely to see the light of day unless coalition negotiations get desperate.
Fresh Face Factor: F
Did someone say fresh? Wrong place, sorry. You won't find that here (apart from the fresh pot of tea Barbara Stewart - she's one of their MPs - makes for weekly caucus meetings). New Zealand First deserves a fail mark for this category, based solely on the fact its leader has been an MP since 1978 (with a few brief interludes). That's nearly 40 years. Moreover, many of the party's MPs went to seed a long time ago, but have stayed on to clip the taxpayer-funded ticket and drone on in the house like some ill-prepared eulogy. Those that haven't expired have only succeeded in blending in as Parliamentary staffers, cleaners, or security (the men standing behind Winston Peters on the telly are actually his MPs, not security). This year's list is yet to show signs of any refreshment (apart from the occasional Mentos, or Oddfellow).
Despite the lack of fresh faces and policies, the vibe in New Zealand First is surprisingly upbeat. Winston Peters (and the staff doing all the work behind the scenes) can take most of the credit for this. There's a feeling the party is a force to be reckoned with - it is capable of delivering huge upsets and surprises. Winston's fearlessness, intelligence, and political strategy means the party is in a good, stable place. Winston (and to some degree Ron Mark) is not scared to throw punches, speak his mind, and upset people. This, combined with his ability to polarise, means he's very popular with conservative voters. However, this vibe will evaporate completely when Winston leaves.
Outlook for Election: A+
There's a very real chance New Zealand First will choose the next Government, in the same way it did in 1996. Even though Winston claims to hate polls, all recent ones show he will be kingmaker which puts him in a position of great power. And now the Newshub-Reid Research shows him at a record high of 9.4 percent. That's a massive result for someone who traditionally peaks late.
For instance, at the same time in the 2014 election, New Zealand First poll just 3.6 percent. On election day it polled 8.6 percent - meaning in the final 100 days New Zealand First picked up 5 percent support. A similar trend this time around would see New Zealand First register over 14 percent. Right now, the poll shows him taking votes off Labour. If the polls show him as kingmaker, and voters want to "send National a message" he could start taking votes off them too which might send him skyrocketing. Things are going Winston's way - 2017 could be his time.
Lloyd Burr is a political reporter for Newshub.