Keeping an eye on the long game


*Exitus acta probat

Media reports on the Rt Hon Winston Peters’ influence and ability to sink Government policy highlight the Deputy Prime Minister’s strategic approach to achieving his goals.

As Parliament’s great survivor, Mr Peters knows only too well the importance of looking after his party. His visits to the provinces in the buildup to the 2017 election are evidence of his political strategy.

Mr Peters has one eye fixed on ensuring the longevity of New Zealand First. And with the party polling around the five per cent threshold, the leader knows it needs to differentiate itself from Labour and the Greens.

This awareness helps explain why Mr Peters put Labour not National into government.

The risks of going with National would have meant a fight for the centre ground. With the current arrangement, Mr Peters has the territory to himself and looks experienced and statesmanlike by comparison to the other parties in government.

Labour and the Greens are to the left of centre. As they roll out their policy, they provide more opportunities for New Zealand First to play the part of moderators – akin to United Future, but with more bite.

Cognito expects to see more examples of New Zealand First taking a position seemingly at odds with Government policy. Mr Peters will push boundaries in one policy area to achieve concessions in others.

That’s essentially what’s happened with justice reforms, the refugee quota and Crown-Māori relations and what Cognito understands is happening with workplace relations and the Zero Carbon bill.

Mr Peters won’t push workplace relations to the point of sabotaging Labour’s broader reforms. Instead, we expect he will push back enough to allay the worst of business’ fears.

In pulling his punches, Mr Peters will be able to secure concessions in other areas like the treatment of agricultural emissions in the Zero Carbon bill. This will allow him to appear as the champion of common sense and maximise his chances of achieving his long-term goal – a centrist political force in New Zealand politics independent of the big parties, which endures beyond his leadership.

Mr Peters provides a timely reminder of how to play the long game – be clear about your goals and have a strategy for achieving them.

* The result justifies the deed.