‘Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong. That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible, its human face. We’ve had to make a choice, whether it was either with National or Labour, for a modified status quo – or for change. In our negotiations, both National and Labour were presented with that opportunity. Working together, co-operating together for New Zealand. We choose a coalition government of New Zealand First with Labour’.
With those dramatic words Winston Peters, this most extraordinary man, wrote himself a permanent place in New Zealand history.
So first of all I warmly congratulate new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her coalition government. We know Jacinda well. Her extraordinary personal transformation as leader of the Labour Party certainly not only saved Labour from another, possibly fatal, defeat, it propelled her and Labour to what would have seemed only a few weeks ago, a most unlikely victory. And to Winston, a long-standing Ponsonby resident, our congratulations and thanks. Jacinda’s sparkling charisma which has proven to shine brightest at the highest level of politics, however was not quite enough. Two fundamental errors cost Labour votes – especially in Auckland. The sudden announcement of a capital gains tax, as has been well discussed, was ruthlessly exploited by National. It associated the newly invigorated Labour with the losing performance of the party under Phil Goff in 2011 and David Cunliffe in 2014. The capital gains tax idea, along with the equally unpopular rolling back of superannuation had been dumped by Andrew Little but Labour’s Treasury-friendly old guard evidently persuaded the new leader to take it up again. Secondly the trams-to-the-airport policy was widely seen by Aucklanders as flaky – even among staunch Labour voters. These two policies served to raise fatal doubts among just too many swing voters. The trams policy too came from her old mentor Phil Goff but actually originated from the immensely powerful but widely distrusted Auckland Transport. It is supported by a small claque of Auckland Transport’s social media assets and their associates in the Greens – but not much anyone else.
Everyone makes mistakes. The mark of distinction is whether one learns from them. There is every evidence that our new Prime Minister does learn from mistakes and therefore will be a stronger leader for that. The ‘captain’s call’ on capital gains was soon reversed and I am hoping common sense will also prevail over the trams-to the-airport policy.
A rail link to the airport using high capacity fast electric trains is what Mr Peters has made very clear he prefers and without doubt the overwhelming majority of Aucklanders, whatever party they voted for, agree with him.
Obviously the policy arrangements of the new coalition government have not yet been made clear by the time this article goes to press. But from Mr Peter’s remarkable statement foreshadowing his party’s decision it is clear there will be a movement away, significant ‘change’, from the neoliberal paradigm that has determined the economic policies of both National and Labour for well over a generation. Again without knowing the details, this change also reflects well on the leadership talents of Prime Minister Ardern. Ironically the shift to the left has come from the right, ie New Zealand First, (please excuse my using the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ which are now just about past their use-by date as these events demonstrate). However in conceding such a shift, Prime Minister Ardern is actually moving Labour policy back to its core philosophy and the instinctive preferences of its constituency – as opposed those of the Wellington-based ‘beltway’ leadership. Such a move strengthens the party at its foundations and moves NZ Labour in the same direction as the British Labour Party under the now widely-respected Jeremy Corbyn (once sneered at by the same ‘belt-way’ people). This is not only right up with international trends, but because NZ Labour is now actually in power – it actually puts Labour ahead of the curve. To commit to such a profound policy change makes the Prime Minister too an historical figure. That incomparable political commentator Machiavelli once observed ‘The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the people he has around him.’ [or her]. The lesson from the election campaign I hope will be that the new Prime Minister will be thinking very hard about the quality of advice she has been given by her old mentors. Mr Peters I hope will not only be Jacinda’s deputy but also her trusted advisor. Winston Peters is an extraordinary politician who for the last few weeks has held the whole country in his thrall. Indeed it might be said a worker of political magic on the scale of the Polynesian demi-god Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga. He is also a New Zealand patriot, a man of substance, of integrity and courage whom history has called forward in the country’s hour of need. This is an extraordinary story – and it has only just begun.
This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Ponsonby News