NZ Election 2020: Winston Peters thinks some MPs have become 'clone members who are indistinguishable'

Winston Peters thinks some MPs have become "clone members who are indistinguishable", and revealed how being kingmaker is the "worst thing possible" because it disappointed half of his supporters. 

The NZ First leader sat with Māori TV to reflect on his 42 years in Parliament, having first entered as a National Party candidate in 1978, and forming his own party in 1993 after the MMP voting system was introduced. 

Peters said after more than 40 years in the New Zealand political landscape, the thing that has changed the most to him is the "character" of politics. 

"There was a time when we used to admire people who had character, not because they were characters, but because they had real character and they stood up for things and they were prepared to go to the wire to defend their constituency or their principles," he said. 

"A lot of that's changed now and you have a lot of what I call 'clone members' who are indistinguishable from some of their colleagues and a lesser Parliament is a consequence."

Peters has often been referred to as the 'kingmaker' because NZ First has worked with both National and Labour in the past, and at the 2017 election all eyes were on him to see which party he would choose to form a Government with. 

National won 56 seats at the 2017 election under Bill English but it didn't reach the 60 it needed to form a Government, even with ACT's one seat. It needed NZ First's nine seats, but Peters chose to form a coalition with Labour. 

Labour only had 46 seats and with NZ First's nine seats that only made 55, so Labour signed a confidence and supply with the Greens who had eight seats, which resulted in the current Government led by Jacinda Ardern. 

Peters said he did not enjoy being in the kingmaker position. 

"It's the worst thing possible. You're going to disappoint half of your supporters no matter what you do and you're going to be misrepresented no matter what you did," he said. 

Peters also held the balance of power in 1996 when he formed a coalition with National, when he first became Deputy Prime Minister. But the coalition dissolved in 1998 after then-Prime Minister Jim Bolger was rolled by Jenny Shipley. 

In 2005, Peters gave NZ First's support to Labour under a confidence and supply agreement. That Government, led by Helen Clark, also included the Progressive Party and United Future. 

Despite former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon once tipping Peters to become the first Māori Prime Minister, he says that's just "tokenism" and that it earned him enemies within the National Party. 

"It made me a whole lot of enemies. The moment Muldoon said that I was almost condemned to make enemies in the National Party. That's the way it is in politics," Peters said.

"If I'd been prepared to sell my principles down the drain, I could have been there a whole lot long ago."

Peters recalled the moment when 32 National MPs walked into his office and wanted him to lead a charge and asked whether he'd do it. 

"I was never going to sell myself out to be their leader because I knew that I was not going to be their leader - I'd be purely their servant," Peters said. 

"Some people change their principles to suit their party. I changed my party and started a new one to suit my principles - and I'm proud of it."

Peters recently claimed to The AM Show that he also once turned down a knighthood, but he didn't reveal which Prime Minister made the recommendation to the Queen. 

NZ First was on 1.9 percent in the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll, which is below the 5 percent threshold to enter Parliament, so unless a candidate won an electorate, the party wouldn't make it back on that number. 

Earlier this week the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) laid charges against two people connected to the NZ First Foundation - which has bankrolled the party - over donations. The two people have name suppression, and are not sitting MPs, ministers, candidates or staff. 

Peters is planning on taking the SFO to court over the timing of its decision to release its findings into the investigation so close to the election, and why they chose to reveal that a decision would be made before the election.