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Today is a FREE taste of an Insight Politics article by writer John Black.
The Two Winstons
Like a bear that couldn’t stand his hibernation a moment longer, Winston Peters has emerged in the middle of winter roaring. At the New Zealand First AGM he mauled his former coalition partner, the cycle bridge, the vaccine rollout, the National opposition and confusingly ‘ngati woke’ – by which I think he means the maorification of everything, in particular, the penchant for government bodies to use ‘Aotearoa’ over ‘New Zealand’.
I see his point: ‘Aotearoa First’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Most professional commentators have lamented the return of Winston to the political scene (John Roughan in the NZ Herald going so far as to suggest that he has ‘damaged our democracy’). For unprofessional commentators like myself who go by a different metric when assessing political figures (are they entertaining and will they make writing about the often dreary NZ political scene fun), his re-emergence is more welcome.
His attempt at a comeback at 76 years old compares with his famous namesake’s re-election as Tory prime minister at the same age. In fact the lives and politics of Winston Peters and Winston Churchill have many parallels; an investigation of the latter may give us some insight into what comes next for the former.
Although thought of as a pillar of British nobdom, Winston Churchill’s mother was actually American. There was a trend in the late 19th century of eminent Brits (his Dad was Secretary of State for India) marrying American socialites. Regrettably, this has recently become fashionable again (see Prince Harry and that American mentalist). Winston Peters has a Scots mum and a Maori dad (Ngati Wai).
Winston Churchill’s American connections helped him forge the trans-Atlantic relationship necessary for the defeat of fascism in WWII.
Winston Peters’ Maori ancestry helps him to really annoy Willie Jackson.
When he was twenty, Winston Churchill joined the 4th Queen’s Hussars regiment of the British Army. He fought in Cuba, India and the Sudan where he faced down 50,000 Muslim dervishes at the battle of Omdurman.
When he was twenty Winston Peters taught intermediate school in Te Atatu where he faced down thirty or so early adolescents.
Those who have been teachers will see the similarities.
Winston Churchill loved scotch. Winston Peters loves scotch. Although if they were having a drinking contest, my money would be on Churchill – the man literally drank wine for breakfast, explaining why by saying he had a “profound distaste on the one hand for skimmed-milk, and on the other, no deep-rooted prejudice about wine”. Which makes you wonder if he put it on his corn flakes.
Winston Churchill smoked cigars. Winston Peters smokes Rothman’s Red.
Political Party Promiscuity
Winston Churchill left the Conservative party frustrated by their policy of protecting the economy from free trade and the country from immigrants (he opposed the Aliens Bill 1905, which introduced the first immigration controls). He joined the Liberal party and prospered, becoming the Home Secretary.
Winston Peters left the National Party frustrated with their policy of not protecting the economy from free trade and the country from immigrants. He set up the New Zealand First party and prospered becoming deputy prime minister in two coalition governments.
Of course famously, Churchill returned to the fold, leading the Tories during the war, whereas Peters will return to the National Party shortly after pigs become an aviation hazard and Hell hosts the Winter Olympics.
For both Winstons, their greatest triumphs came in coalition governments.
In 1940 on becoming prime minister Churchill invited the British Labour Party leader Clement Attlee to form a coalition government, eventually making him deputy prime minister. This enabled Churchill to lead Britain effectively in its fight against the forces of fascism, eventually defeating them in the name of democracy and freedom.
In 1996, Peters’ New Zealand First formed a coalition government with National. Peters became deputy prime minister. This enabled him to introduce the Gold Card, allowing the richest demographic in the country, the elderly, to have free bus rides and watch Fast and Furious 9 at 10.30 in the morning at a heavily discounted price.
It’s ironic, given Peters’ views, that these days the Gold Card is primarily used by Chinese grandmothers taking the bus free from the supermarket to their five-bedroom houses in Browns Bay.
Being Right on One Big Thing
Actually Churchill was right on two big things: the looming dangers of both fascism and communism. But he spent what should have been his dotage sounding a warning bell about the latter. In his 1946 ‘Iron Curtain’ speech, when they had just won a war together, Churchill shared his fears about his Soviet ally, calling for “a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States” to keep them in check. This laid the ground work for eventual victory in the Cold War.
Although Peters’ tilts at neoliberalism and immigration have found him and his party some success, it is his recent warnings on Maori separatism that will resonate most with middle New Zealand. There is a growing feeling that if forced to choose between New Zealand and ‘Aotearoa’ most would rather stick with the land they grew up in.
Whether this will translate to choosing New Zealand First to act once again as a handbrake on Labour’s loonier fringe is unclear but the electoral math suggests it could. If Peters spends the final part of his political career leading a charge against this calamitous policy, his return will be justified.
However, given his track record (his time in the last government did nothing to staunch immigration pre-Covid) it’s not hard to imagine Peters blunting his criticisms for the Minister of Racing portfolio and a chance to spend his declining years in the president’s suite at Alexandra Park.
It’s difficult to imagine the other Winston being so easily pacified.
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