What we do know, however, is that if the person who wins the electorate is from Labour, National or ACT, it will make little difference to the balance of political power between now and the next general election.
Clearly most Right-leaning voters will be hoping that National will retain the electorate that it won from New Zealand First in 2005. Winning it with an increased majority would be a positive sign for Christopher Luxon and his leadership, but it would simply restore the balance of Parliamentary power which prevailed prior to Simon Bridges’ surprise resignation. Losing it would be a major psychological blow to National but wouldn’t make any perceptible difference to National’s influence on the course of events between now and the general election.
If Labour were to win Tauranga it would be an enormous political earthquake – Labour has not won Tauranga since 1935. Such a win against the trend of all the recent political polls which show waning support for Labour would be a devastating blow for Luxon and an enormous boost for Ardern – but it’s not going to happen.
But what if Winston Peters were to be the New Zealand First candidate and to win? Such a win would not change the Government’s grip on power, but it would fundamentally change the political dynamics over the 18 months until the general election because voters would know that a party vote for New Zealand First would not be at risk of being wasted if that party’s party vote falls below the 5% threshold.
Nobody who knows me or who reads what I write would be surprised to know that I am a strong supporter of David Seymour and the ACT Party, and I have given my party vote to the ACT Party in every election since 2011. I expect to be doing the same in the next general election.
I am broadly supportive of all of ACT’s policies, and especially those related to partnership schools, to freeing up land and funding to make housing more affordable, and to making New Zealand a multi-ethnic society where every citizen, wherever they or their ancestors were born, has equal political rights. (Anybody who needs convincing on the last of these points should watch David Seymour’s interview on Q+A on 10 April 2022 here, or the five minute speech by Karen Chhour in Parliament on 30 March.
But if I had the right to vote in Tauranga (and I don’t) and Winston Peters were to be the New Zealand First candidate in the by-election, I would vote for him in preference to any of the other candidates.
Good heavens Brash! Why? You know almost nothing about his policies and you can’t trust the guy! He might again support Labour after the next election, as he did in 2005 (I was National Leader at the time and remember it very well) and again in 2017.
Fair points. But one policy we know that Winston does feel strongly about and that relates to treating all New Zealanders equally, with no special rights for anybody based on ethnicity. And for me that is of existential importance to New Zealand’s future.
He has long held that view, but let me provide a few examples. In early 2016, he gave a major speech to the Orewa Rotary Club (I was in the audience) in which he quoted National Government Minister Nick Smith’s speech to the Nelson Rotary Club outlining what needed to be done to fix the Resource Management Act. He contrasted what needed to be done with what an amendment to the RMA which was then before Parliament would actually achieve – which was very little, and even that little was to be achieved only by winning Maori Party support by requiring still more consultation with tribal groups. Mr Peters offered the 12 votes of New Zealand First to achieve the kind of RMA reform which Nick Smith said was required but only on condition that all references to race were removed from the Bill. John Key’s Government rejected the offer, and we’re stuck with a seriously dysfunctional RMA today.
As that RMA amendment bill was making its way through Parliament, I had coffee with Mr Peters – the first time I had talked directly to him since he chose Helen Clark in preference to me in 2005. I commented that the issue of treating all New Zealanders equally was the biggest issue facing the Government. No, he corrected me, it’s the biggest issue facing the country. And I believe he meant it.
He has on several occasions ridiculed the notion that the Treaty of Waitangi created a partnership between the Crown and those with some Maori ancestry. In several speeches he has asked how it was that the Queen of the mightiest empire the world had seen was in partnership with nobody on 5 February 1840 but was suddenly in partnership with hundreds of Maori chiefs, almost none of whom she had ever met, the following day.
And this strong commitment to equal citizenship is not Mr Peters’ alone. In recent weeks, Shane Jones wrote an article for the New Zealand Herald on 15 March denouncing co-governance, and Ron Mark’s strong opposition to racial favoritism of any kind is well remembered.
If Winston Peters were to stand in the by-election and lose, the risk to the centre-right of politics is that New Zealand First will get, say, 4% of the party vote in the general election and see that vote “wasted”. If one could be confident that all of those votes would have come from Labour or the Greens, great from my point of view. But it is at least as likely – more likely in my view, especially if New Zealand First runs a strong campaign demanding equal citizenship for all – that many of those votes will have come from the centre-right, from either National or ACT. That loss of centre-right votes could make the difference between forming a National-led Government and another Labour-led Government.
But how can we be certain that, if he won in Tauranga, Mr Peters won’t once again opt to support a Labour-led Government, as he did in 2005 and again in 2017? Well of course we can’t be certain of that. But having watched the way in which the Labour Party hid from Mr Peters the He Puapua report for almost a year after it was completed, we must have some confidence that Mr Peters won’t quickly forgive that deception on an issue which he feels very strongly about.
Moreover, when we compare the radical agenda of this Labour-only Government with the relatively moderate agenda of the Labour-New Zealand First Coalition Government, it must at least be acknowledged that the presence of New Zealand First in that government was a restraining one – no entrenchment of the Maori electorates, no Maori appointees to Environment Canterbury, no light rail to Auckland airport, no capital gains tax, etc.
Will Mr Peters stand in the by-election? I have no idea of course. But he is fond of pointing out that he is several years younger than the President of the United States. And he held the Tauranga electorate for 21 years from 1984 to 2005. So he is well known in the electorate and his commitment to equal citizenship has considerable appeal in the electorate. My guess is that he will stand, and if he does I hope that he wins it.