Jenna Lynch Election 2023 analysis: Coalition talks become a circus as Christopher Luxon, David Seymour cave to Winston Peters' whims

ANALYSIS: So they caved. They gave in to Winston's whims. They played Peters' game.   

After waiting all day in Wellington, expecting Winston Peters to grace his future governing partners with his presence, Christopher Luxon and a selection of his brains trust made a mad dash to catch the last flight out of the capital on Tuesday evening destined for Auckland where Peters was holed up.   

There is only one word for it. Humiliating.   

Stood up by Peters, Luxon and David Seymour, tails between legs, traipsed back to their hometown at the whim of Winston for the first official meeting of the triumvirate.  

There was hope of a meeting in Wellington on Tuesday but as Seymour bluntly said on his return to the City of Sails, "Not everyone showed up but hey what can you do?"  

By Wednesday morning the staged photo of all three grinning around a table was released following a meeting that can only be described as brief.   

Make up your own minds on who's running the show here.   

When Peters says jump Luxon's no longer just asking how high, he's asking: when and where too.   

A necessity perhaps in this case to charm the kingmaker and court holder because Newshub understands National's first offer to New Zealand First was a dud. They lowballed the man who's negotiated three government deals. This is the price to pay.   

As one MP who endured the rollercoaster ride of working with Peters in the 2017 term put it: "They have obviously pissed Winston off. He does this kind of thing to make a point."  

Negotiations have stretched over a month now. Sure, it's only been 12 days since the final result, but Luxon assured the public there was work being done in the three-week wait for the specials.   

He wanted to do this differently. Take it away from the press pack. Ironically, more has leaked about these negotiations than ever did in 2017.   

Such is his cone of secrecy Luxon has taken to basically running past journalists in airports so as not to answer a question.   

"Progress" this. "Strong and stable" that.    

So afraid of letting a detail slip he's uttering the same stability catchphrases so often, it's beginning to sound like a mantra, like he's trying to convince himself it's true.   

In contrast the other partners are managing to walk the tightrope of keeping negotiation points confidential while still treating the public like adults and giving some semblance of progress reports.   

Peters has mainly chosen to do interviews outside the mainstream, though he did pop out for one impromptu press conference last week. His assumed deputy Shane Jones often speaks in riddle and verse – decoding it is always a challenge and sometimes a fool's errand, but he's also letting slip details – like 'jagged edges' around tax policy.   

Seymour is more forthcoming with the no news is neither good nor bad news updates. On Tuesday, he was openly talking about there being issues without overtly identifying the problems.   

"Ultimately three have to agree, everyone can get into the blame game and say it's those guys," he said.  

"I think it's fair to say each party has issues that the other one doesn't like so much and I think each party knows they are going to have to come to a compromise."   

And compromise will be hard with these three.   

ACT and New Zealand First both need something to take back to the electorate in three years' time to convince them they're worth it. Both parties have faced the cold shoulder of the public and rebuilt – they don't want to have to do that slog again.   

So behind those closed doors Luxon won't tell us about, National is now negotiating line by line what they can concede.   

The conundrum is, if they give an inch to ACT, New Zealand First will likely pull an inch in the other direction, and vice versa – taking it back to the centre, which is too close to National’s own policy, and therefore unsatisfactory to the other two.   

Luxon has made much of his ability to get a deal, pointing to his days as a CEO (of Air NZ if you haven't caught that one yet).   

As one source told me, no successful person they'd met ever rattled off how successful they were, but Luxon works his own success into many a conversation.  

Luxon is experienced in business. But he's only been in politics three years. This is not the same world.   

It's not Winston Peters’ first rodeo but it is beginning to look like Christopher Luxon's first circus.

Jenna Lynch is Newshub's Political Editor.

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