After much fanfare, the final outcome of the 2017 General Elections is finally known. In vintage fashion, New Zealand First Leader the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters stole the spotlight when he made his announcement of forming a coalition government with the New Zealand Labour Party.
Live coverage began over an hour before Peters even reached the function room where the Press Conference was going to be held. Newshub’s duo of Lloyd Burr and Patrick Gower were both speculating on what the announcement would be, all while vigorously waiting outside the elevators inside the Beehive.
The first signs of an imminent announcement came when the NZ First caucus – minus Winston – emerged out of the lift and slowly made their way towards the Press Gallery. The journalists waiting quickly hounded them for any clues on which way they would go, but all the MPs were united in keeping mum on the issue.
Finally, the Rt. Hon. Peters emerged out of an elevator and was also tight-lipped on the announcement he was about to make. The Party was adamant that the decision would be made at the Press Conference and not a minute earlier.
Peters began his speech by defending the time it took for his Party to make a decision, citing the example of Germany where the results of their MMP coalition negotiations will not be made until December. He also stated that the negotiations emphasized policy, and that his negotiating team worked hard to ensure they got the best deal possible out of the talks.
The most noteworthy part of the speech was when Peters alluded to the need to restore “conscience into capitalism”, or what he called “capitalism with a human face”. The Party Leader declared that many New Zealanders have come to view capitalism “not as their friend” and that they were mostly right in their assessment. That tone was a dead giveaway to the path he was about to choose.
It also became quite obvious when Peters compared the two options he had, one was a “modified status quo” and the other was “change”. It was obvious who the latter referred to, given that Labour campaigned to change the government alongside the Green Party. What the NZ First Leader alluded to in this aspect of his speech was that he felt there was a need for genuine change, rather than making tweaks here and there.
At last, Peters announced that his Party had gone into a full coalition agreement with the Labour Party. At that point, the nine year reign of the National Party ended and Bill English’s team had been relegated to the opposition benches. It also meant that the Green Party would form some role in government, as they entered a confidence and supply agreement with the Labour Party.
Analyzing the rationale for their decision as outlined by Peters, it is clear that New Zealand First went the way they did because they believed a change was needed. Not a modification of the status quo, not a few minor, superficial changes in a few area – but a substantial, radical change.
The decision was also a fulfillment of New Zealand First’s election campaign war-cry: “had enough?” The slogan was a dig at the status quo, asking voters if they had enough of the direction the country was headed. To choose to oust the current drivers of government and to hand the keys to a completely new team meant that those who “had enough” would get their wish.
There had been many baseless accusations thrown at New Zealand First over the decision they made, many stating that it was to gain lucrative positions in government or a petty stunt by Winston Peters to get back at National. Those who believe that obviously are prejudiced towards Peters and are choosing to ignore the fact that the negotiating team comprised of more people than just the Party Leader.
The most plausible explanation for why NZ First chose to go with Labour is because they recognized their voters longed for a change, and so the Party gave it to them.