Don’t listen to those who dismiss the current muscle-flexing by Winston Peters as nothing more than the standard fare of MMP politics.
It is anything but.
Were there a handbook covering the mechanics of forming and running a coalition government, the New Zealand First leader would currently be writing a new chapter—one which would be without a happy ending for Jacinda Ardern, her coalition managers and the rest of the Labour Party.
The latter should be worried — very worried.
Just compare how NZ First is behaving one year into this Government and one year into the 2005 to 2008 Government. Both times they had around the same number of MPs. But in 2006 they were almost invisible while in 2018 they are in the news constantly.
Labour has been outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by him, however.
He has decreed that anything which is not included in the two parties’ coalition agreement, the Speech from the Throne, which sets out a government’s legislative programme, the Budget or Labour’s 100-day Action Plan is not Government policy.
It is —to use Peters’ term — a “work in progress’’.
This is not the deal Labour thought they were getting. Labour thought NZ First has agreed to support any policy in the Labour manifesto, so long as it was not contradicted by the coalition agreement. But Labour didn’t get it in writing, and now are paying the price.
Labour’s concern is that the winner in this power tussle will turn out not to be Peters or Arden, but Simon Bridges.
National’s leader is having a field day labelling the Prime Minister as weak and indecisive in failing to rein in New Zealand First.
Any harm done by Peters to Labour’s biggest electoral asset will be deemed as totally unacceptable.
Second, Labour will take a very dim view of New Zealand First if that party’s attack on what Labour calls its socially “progressive” policies sees Labour voters decamping to the Greens.
For those reasons alone, the Doomsday Clock gauging the likely longevity of the current governing arrangement is now ticking much closer to midnight.
Yes Jacinda is being undermined more by her own Deputy Prime Minister than she is by the Opposition!