Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Legacy questions

Another poll has come out today showing National losing ground in the wake of the Dirty Politics scandal. At this stage its looking like National has lost the election (in that they can't put together an easy government relying only on their footstools), but that Labour and the Greens haven't won it, and that Winston Peters is again shaping up as kingmaker.

While Winston has said he will sit on the crossbenches, the numbers might not permit him that option. And in that case, the common wisdom is that he'll go with National, because they can offer him a senior position where he won't have to play second fiddle to the Greens.

But common wisdom also says that this is likely to be Winston's last term. Which means that what he does this term is going to be his legacy, and set the tone for how he is remembered by future generations. And on that front, he has two choices: he can help a corrupt National regime limp to a third term despite a scandal which should bring them down - or he can be the man who cleaned up New Zealand politics. And when you put it like that, its a no brainer. Winston has already held every senior position he can expect to hold. He's been Treasurer, Foreign Minister, and Deputy PM. He hasn't been Prime Minister or Speaker, but the former is highly unlikely, and he's temperamentally unsuited for the latter (though the thought of Speaker Winston ceremonially throwing himself out at the start of every Question Time so he can spend quality time in his office with a bottle of whiskey is amusing). A senior position in a National-led government adds nothing in itself to his list of accomplishments. Being the guy who cleaned house, though - that's something, and something which builds on his past work on the winebox scandal.

That said, I'm not sure that "cleaning house" is the same as "toppling National". Winston has already said he will demand a proper inquiry as the price of his support. He may go further and also demand a Prime Minister untainted by the scandal. Either way, if he supports National, the price is likely to be humiliating and painful.