Mood of the Boardroom: Will this be Winston's finest hour?

By Tim McCready

Perhaps the real winner of the opposition in the current climate is NZ First Leader Winston Peters, writes Tim McCready
Winston Peters. Illustration / John Armstrong
Winston Peters. Illustration / John Armstrong


There are striking similarities in the motivations behind the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union, the incredible rise of Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders) against all odds, and what have consistently been Winston Peters' policies.

At the heart of the Brexit campaign -- passionately supported by Nigel Farage's UKIP -- the closest comparable UK political party to New Zealand First, was strong rhetoric around the "deterioration" of the United Kingdom and the unrecognisable, rapid change resulting from globalisation (and the mass migration that has come with it). Notably it was the lack of control felt by ordinary people over the direction of their country that most resonated.

The UK's financial markets rose sharply in the final stages of the referendum campaign, reflecting the confidence that "Remain" would prevail. But when the quiet majority rose against the prevailing voice, Donald Trump himself used the victory as his own platform, tweeting: "Just arrived in Scotland.

Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games."

Trump ignored (or missed) the fact that the majority of Scotland backed a continued membership of the European Union.

Farage consistently and successfully directed his anger towards the "establishment", including politicians in Brussels and Westminster who had long ignored resentment toward closer political integration and immigration, particularly in traditionally working class areas.

Sound familiar? Earlier this year, marking 23 years of New Zealand First, Peters used both Trump and Brexit to boost his own platform.

"The rise of Donald Trump in the United States against all predictions and the chord Bernie Sanders struck with many Americans can be attributed to ordinary citizens stepping up to the mark and saying -- we've had enough.

"Others around the world think as New Zealand First does," he said. "The people of Britain decided they had put up with enough of being ignored or talked down to from Brussels. They were tired of being fobbed off about issues like immigration."

In stark contrast last week, Prime Minister John Key addressed the UN General Assembly, speaking out against creeping protectionism -- "borders are closing to people and products, to investment, to ideas. Many states are turning inwards.

"The politics of fear and extremism are gaining ground. We cannot turn inwards."

Though we cannot yet speak for the United States, the early signs are at least that the Brexit vote may well turn out to be a force for global free trade rather than protectionist interests.

Winston seems to be the obvious winner of the disenfranchised voter.
Manufacturing CEO

There is a great opportunity for New Zealand and the UK to ally closely on this, but no outcome is guaranteed for either nation -- particularly with Winston Peters on the march.

In this year's survey, 40 per cent of CEO respondents thought New Zealand First would hold the balance of power following the next election; 14 per cent think he won't and 46 per cent aren't sure.

None of the respondents seem particularly thrilled with the prospect:

• "Winston seems to be the obvious winner of the disenfranchised voter. I never thought I would say it but I am glad we have MMP -- it may prove to be a good moderator in this new political environment." -- A manufacturing chief executive.

• "Watch out: Winston's coming!" -- A chief executive of a government agency.

• "I would like to see Winston Peters prosecuted for treason." -- A FMCG boss.

Peters aims to mobilise those one million "forgotten New Zealanders", and those that have become disillusioned with politicians.

He has positioned New Zealand First to be anti-political, anti-immigration, and anti-capitalism.

He has had his own successes this term at the expense of the Government: the failure of Key's flag referendum, and a landslide victory in last year's Northland by-election.

Farage has said that the British people conclusively fired a stone at their Goliath earlier this year. Perhaps, in 2017, Winston Peters will strike his.

- NZ Herald

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