Gordon Campbell on whether Winston Peters can be a moderating influence

9f5618d59557a8a8d245As the centre-right has (finally!) been subjected to media interrogation, the polls are indicating that some voters may be starting to have second thoughts about the wisdom of giving National and ACT the power to govern alone. That’s why yesterday’s Newshub/Reid Research poll had the National/ACT combo dropping to 60 seats, which is already one short of a governing majority. On current standings, the centre-right would need to get a green light from Winston Peters before it could pass any significant legislation.

Christopher Luxon, David Seymour and Peters would be an unlikely governing troika in any space time continuum. For starters, Peters is a fervent nationalist who is instinctively suspicious of the workings of privilege. Seymour, however, is a keen advocate of globalisation and treats privilege as being non-existent. More to the point, Peters’ sense of propriety makes him hyper-sensitive to being treated as a convenience, or as a third wheel.

In all likelihood, Peters will try to swat Seymour aside like a bothersome fly and deal only with Luxon, as an equal. Meaning: Since Peters is likely to gain even more traction in the polls before October 14, I wouldn’t be making plans to spend those Luxonian tax cuts any time soon.

Footnote: Some time ago, Peters ruled out working with Labour and vice-versa. Think about that for a moment. If you were Winston Peters, wouldn’t you fancy that you’d have a better chance of getting what you want when sitting across the table from Luxon, Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop than you would have when trying to wring concessions from Chris Hipkins, Grant Robertson and Megan Woods? The centre-right brings no experience whatsoever to the bargaining table. Peters may have his foibles, but he reserves his deepest scorn for amateurs.

Footnote Two: How might this all work out? Luxon will have the big numbers, but on current trends, Peters could easily end up with a bigger swag of seats on election night than Seymour, who is making party vote ACT look more and more like a wasted vote, in terms of likely policy gains. One reason for Peters’ current rise is that he was the only major political figure willing to publicly engage with the protesters at Parliament, and he’s now reaping support from the Rivers of Freedom crowd.

In the process, he could also – ironically – help National to move towards the political centre that Willis and Bishop are smart enough to see as National’s more sustainable home. Luxon could not have shifted in that direction by himself (pre-election) without bleeding even more support to ACT.

Post-election though, is a different matter. Luxon, Willis and Bishop should be feeling grateful to Peters for providing National with an escape route, and an opportunity to govern more like a Key/English party of conservative moderation. With Peters in the frame, a National-led government need no longer be held captive by ACT’s wackier ideas which would alienate the public from a National government faster than you can say the words “Ruth Richardson.”

Bashing beneficiaries, again

In the meantime though, National is still trying to win votes – and deliver cheap labour to its corporate donors – via its age-old practice of bashing beneficiaries. Reportedly, National is promoting a “traffic light system” that will impose strict “work for the dole” requirements on poor people receiving state support. Needless to say, rich people receiving corporate welfare will be exempt from these bracing disciplines.

National first floated similar ideas in mid 2022, when Luxon confirmed that National aimed to impose job search and work requirements on the sick and disabled. This time around, National is still talking about increasing the forms of bureaucratic harassment: It will impose more regular enrollments for benefits, and require constant evidence of searches for paid work and/or evidence of voluntary work. (Again, red tape and regulation are totally fine with the centre right, so long as they’re applied only to poor people.) National and ACT are even talking about dictating the things on which beneficiaries can, and cannot spend the pittances that they receive from the state.

National will also shift the indexation of benefit increases from the increases in the average wage to increases in inflation, in the knowledge that inflation is being tipped to fall sharply back within the 1-3 % target range by the end of next year. These punitive measures to drive people to accept any job, at any wage, will be being brought in at a time when unemployment is forecast to rise next year even without the deliberate job losses that ACT and National have signalled.

Oh, and National and ACT are also promising to freeze the minimum wage and scrap the forms of collective bargaining for better wages and conditions that were introduced by the Labour government, and that helped nurses and bus drivers to achieve fair settlements. No more of that sort of thing under National.

In sum… Welcome to the meaner, divisive, retrograde world being envisioned by the centre-right parties likely to prevail on October 14. For all their puffery about “new” policies and “ change” this country is being set up to repeat all of the same mistakes it made 40 years ago. As Karl Marx once put it: “History repeats itself first as tragedy, second as farce.”