Winston Peters is confident of bringing NZ First back in 2023. Photo / NZME
Winston Peters is eyeing a return for NZ First to the halls of Parliament in 2023, but he faces a tough task to get there.
Peters is aiming for a group of disgruntled New Zealanders, who have become increasingly frustrated with the Government over the last five years.
The challenge for Peters is that he isn’t alone in going after these voters.
Former National MP Matt King and Destiny Church founder Brian Tamaki are both also looking to channel that anger into votes for their newly formed parties.
Offering a more centrist view of the world, we also have The Opportunities Party again looking to nab a few votes off the establishment parties.
In addition, you also have David Seymour’s Act Party, which has long been seen as the political voice for those who have grown tired of New Zealand’s two largest parties.
So why are people directing so much anger at the Government at the moment?
Long-time political lobbyist Mark Unsworth tells the Front Page podcast some of this is not entirely Labour’s fault.
“Inflation is getting out of control and food prices are going up massive amounts,” Unsworth says.
“The rest of the world faces that too, but that doesn’t matter at election time. The Government will still get blamed for it. I think people would like a little more accountability when mistakes were made. I think, especially in Auckland, there’s still a feeling that the city was kept in lockdown for too long.
“The Government was busy telling people what to do and perhaps not nimble enough after Covid to get the economy moving… So there is a bit of a Covid hangover in the air.
“And then you have the extra bits, co-governance and stuff like that scares people because they don’t know what it means. I think the communication from the Government on that has not been very good.”
The question now is whether that wide scope of frustration can be harnessed into allowing any of outside political parties to pass the 5 per cent threshold or nab an electorate seat.
Unsworth says he wouldn’t bet on too many of these parties making it into Parliament next year.
“I don’t think Matt King is even in the race.
“Top has an outside chance, but it’s a very outside chance. They seem to have some traction in Christchurch. But I think Winston is the only outsider that really has a chance of getting back at this stage.”
Since announcing his plans to run next year, Peters has dialled up his political rhetoric, taking aim at co-governance and the role of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s political decision-making.
Given that these talking points have also been used by Act to drum up support, could the reemergence of Peters pose some problems for Act?
“I don’t think so,” responds Unsworth.
“A couple of elections ago, you might have said that, but they’re safely over 10 per cent in the polls. They’ve got a good party with some really good MPs. The idea that they were going to be a rabble and not know what they were doing was always a political myth.
“They seem to have struck a chord and they’ll definitely be coming back and should be well over 10 per cent. In fact, they could pick up votes.”
Few recent issues have been as divisive as Three Waters and co-governance in recent months – and the angry debate doesn’t seem to be cooling off at the moment.
Unsworth says this was clearly reflected in the local body election results, which saw a significant shift away from incumbents.
“There was a very strong anti-Three Waters vibe right around the country, including Auckland. The Government has to take that onboard. And it won’t just be the small parties that benefit. If National has a strong policy of making amendments, it could pick up some support.”
Looking at contentious issues like Three Waters, Unsworth says there’s a clear divide between young and old demographics.
“If you get into issues like co-governance, the Treaty and te reo, young people are generally quite comfortable with it. They’ve had a few more years in school discussing these things. But the more elderly you are, the more you feel that these policies are being rushed. Even simple things like te reo on the TV news and weather [are confronting].”
Unsworth says that the pace of change over the past three years has left many older members of the population feeling quite uncomfortable – and it’s that emotion that many political parties are looking to tap into.
Suffice to say there will likely be a few more contentious debates in the lead-up to the next election.
• The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.
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