Can NZ First survive without Winston

Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:

Anyone who kids themselves that there is life after Winston Peters for NZ First only had to watch the party floundering in the absence of its leader this week.

Frantically trying to head off an attack by their former colleague, expunged NZ Firster Brendan Horan, Peters’ front bench achieved the seemingly impossible feat of making Horan look good by comparison.

They were clueless in the face of Horan’s determination to extract utu from his former party by tabling documents he claimed showed improper use of the taxpayer funded leader’s fund. …

With its leader knocking 70, NZ First is a clock that has been slowly winding down since the 1996 election delivered Peters the balance of power.

The core team around Peters back then was a new generation of swaggering and smart young Maori MPs who might have ensured the party’s survival. Peters’ greatest flaw as a politician has been his inability to hold on to any of them or, for that matter, the MPs who followed.

Since the original caucus bustup back in 1997, he has surrounded himself with increasingly eccentric and obscure MPs to fill the seats vacated by the older and wiser heads he managed to burn off over the years. Of his current caucus, only one – the nanna-like Barbara Stewart – is carried over from the 2005-2008 parliamentary term (NZ First spent a term out of Parliament).

Since the party’s return in 2011, Parliament has been collectively holding its breath waiting for the current team to implode given some of the more eccentric selections – like former North Shore mayor Andrew Williams, notorious for urinating in a public place.

The implosion hasn’t happened yet but there have been plenty of flaky moments. Richard Prosser launched a diatribe against Muslims that prompted hundreds of complaints to the NZ First board. The party’s Pasifika MP, Asenati Lole-Taylor, famously asked questions of the police minister in Parliament about blow jobs and has carved out a cult following on Twitter for her bizarre outbursts. Her most recent was to accuse a press gallery journalist of cyber bullying after he referred to her “shooting the messenger”. Lole-Taylor thought he was alleging she had shot an actual parliamentary messenger.

That is so so funny.

The reason the politicians are rubbing their hands in glee, however, is that nastiness on the campaign trail inevitably boomerangs on the politician pushing the button, which is why parties are tripping over themselves to accuse each other of playing in the dirtiest pool.

When Labour leader David Cunliffe told a Rotorua audience that John Key was a liar, for instance, the prime minister’s office was delighted. After the story was moved from the home page because of concerns about a lack of balance, Key’s office complained to Fairfax.

It would have preferred the headline labelling Key a liar to remain online all day if possible. In its view, it did far more damage to Cunliffe than it did to Key.

I agree, it did.

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