Winston Peters admits there's a 'succession plan' for New Zealand First leadership

The chances of Winston Peters working with the National Party in 2020 are looking more remote by the day.  

He used his major address to New Zealand First's annual conference to repeatedly bag the party. But the decision won't always be his to make - a succession plan is underway.

Peters' speech turned out to be all about National. He didn't just talk about the National Party, but at one point even morphed into it. 

"The fact is New Zealand First, right now, as a party of the centre, is the National Party, when it had a capital N," he said. 

When asked by Newshub why he took this approach, he responded: "I'm just saying we stand for the national interest and we're proud of it." 

"I don't think I did talk about National so much at all," he added. 

But there were a dozen mentions - more than twice that if you count all the National MPs he name-checked. 

Throwing shade appeared to replace the original plan for Peters to make a detailed policy announcement. 

But on Sunday there was a policy win for Young New Zealand First, forcing the party to reconsider its policy against pill testing at festivals.

Chair William Woodward said it was a "no-brainer", while member Robert Griffith commented: "I've seen my friends destroy their lives over it."

Former chair Rob Gore said a lack of testing meant young people often "put themselves in the situation where they end up in the gutter dead".

Convincing the party to adopt the policy is another battle, which we'll find out about in a couple of weeks.

New Zealand First has always been Winston First, but during the conference he talked up his crew big time. He can't be first forever - the question is, who comes second? 

Peters refused to answer Newshub's questions about who he's got lined up to replace him, but did concede the party "always has a succession plan". 

The four main contenders are: 

  • Shane Jones, the bolshy boy from the North 
  • Fletcher Tabuteau, the dutiful deputy 
  • Ron Mark, the Peters idoliser
  • Tracey Martin, the reasonable one

Delegates were divided over who they'd like to see named as successor, but the party may not have to make any sudden movements. 

"Moses led the Israelites to the promised land at 80, so if Winston wanted to do it he could," Gore said. 

Peters himself quoted Elvis Presley when responding to a heckler: "If you're looking for trouble, you've come to the right place."

Perhaps a campaign slogan for Decision 2020.