One of Winston Peters’ most loyal lieutenants has lifted the lid on the final days in the NZ First bunker before the election, revealing that abusive phone calls from the public forced some branch offices to leave their phones off the hook and admitting that Mr Peters’ judgment became clouded.
Clouded. A nice way of putting it.
Mr Peters appears to be on the comeback trail, writing in an email to party faithful that saying “sorry” for events leading up to the last election will clear the way for a “new beginning”. The email comes as the party prepares for its annual gathering on August 29 demoralised by an election loss and a bruising year in which Mr Peters faced controversy over donations to the secretive Spencer Trust and was embarrassed by revelations of a $100,000 donation from billionaire businessman Owen Glenn.
The email states: “Before we make a new beginning, we want to use the hardest word in the English language SORRY. We acknowledge that we made mistakes … we allowed our opponents to create a perception of wrongdoing when, in fact, no offences were committed.”
A perception of wrongdoing?
NZ First filed false donation returns in 2005, 2006 and 2007. They got off prosecution because the then law had a time limit for prosecution. And Peters was exposed by the Privileges Committee as having known about the Glenn donation, despite denying any knowledge dozens of times.
Mr Peters could not be contacted yesterday. But former NZ First deputy Peter Brown, who remains a party loyalist, suggested the sorry was overdue.
“They’re all very fine words. But some of us knew we were on the wrong track. Some of us knew we’d lost sight of the big picture. But much as we tried to steer the horse back on track, he went out like the Lone Ranger.”
I have heard from a few people that none of his MPs could get through to Peters.
But during the 2008 campaign “something clouded his judgment. I think he could have handled things differently and we could have got there. I genuinely believe that.”
If Peters had admitted he knew about the Glenn donation when asked, NZ First may well still be in Parliament. And for all his apologies about “perception” of wrong-doing, Peters still will not apologise for lying over the Glenn donation.
Of course all the Labour MPs voted to believe him also, so I suppose he thinks he was telling the truth. It is interesting Labour never cites their defence of Winston as a factor in their loss. I think it was quite a significant factor.
There had been tensions over legislation that Mr Peters demanded his caucus support, including the Electoral Finance Act, but the bolt from the blue was the Spencer Trust.
There were revelations that money had been secretly paid into the trust, including donations from wealthy business donors.
“Nobody knew anything about that. Deputy leader, the president, we knew nothing. What the dickens?” Mr Brown said.
Ironic that those who supported the EFA were practising exactly what they were denouncing. And as Peter Brown says, this was a trust so secretive not even the Deputy Leader or President knew of it. Winston wan the party as a personal fiefdom.
Things went from bad to worse when NZ First launched a web campaign attacking the media and John Key in an open letter, and 150,000 personalised letters were sent out to voters.
Only Mr Peters knew about it, Mr Brown said. “The place went mad. We got abusive phone calls left, right and centre. This was two days before the election. I couldn’t believe it.
“I rang Wellington and said somebody is up there playing dirty tricks on us … I thought it was our political opponents.’.
Yes, the letter with the personalised domain name was a disaster.
And the Herald talks to Ron Mark:
Ron Mark was NZ First’s highest-profile MP after Mr Peters himself – and yesterday said that after 12 years with the party, he was no longer active and would not rule out returning to politics with another party.
Ron was widely regarded as the successor to Peters.
The Newsroom website revealed yesterday that Mr Peters has written to party members and apologising for “mistakes” made in the election campaign.
When asked if Mr Peters’ apology was warranted, Mr Mark paused for a lengthy period before answering:
“I think it’s always important to acknowledge mistakes you have made.
“To me it’s irrelevant right now. I’m out.”
Peters will be 66 (and have his gold card) at the next election. Who is going to become the new Deputy Leader (Brown has or is stepping down)?