Winston Peters wants party to play with the big boys

By Patrick Crewdson

Winston Peters' three-finger salute of the last election will be replaced by a five-finger salute at today's NZ First campaign launch.

The leader of Parliament's third-largest party will try to shrug off the mantle of "kingmaker" and re-cast NZ First as a major party to rival Labour and National.

The bid will be made in his speech at the party's official election campaign launch at 1pm today at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna.

But it comes as the party has slumped in the polls, down 4.7 points to 7.1 in the latest Herald-Digipoll survey. The result leaves NZ First 30 points behind National and nearly 37 back from Labour. It does not bode well for a tilt at major party status. Mr Peters also dropped eight points in the preferred Prime Minister stakes to 10.3.

The fall in fortunes capped a week in which Mr Peters was accused of "Islamic bashing" after telling a Grey Power meeting New Zealand's Islamic community had a "militant underbelly".

In earlier polls NZ First appeared to occupy the "kingmaker" position, meaning neither Labour nor National would could form a government without its support.

Today, Mr Peters will attempt to shake that title by denying rumours NZ First has already done a backroom coalition deal with National.

He says National is as ideologically rigid as when he left it in the 1990s: "When the so-called Leader of the Opposition says 'mirror, mirror on the wall', each morning, it's Ruth Richardson's reflection that's looking back at him."

But he will continue to avoid any firm indications of the parties with which NZ First could coalesce.

Mr Peters will outline the party's five key campaign planks of immigration, law and order, senior citizens, trade and Maori affairs.

Imagine this, if you will

The photo is Winston, on a beach, his immaculately tailored body arching coyly away from the lapping waves. He's making way for the slogan - the words that are supposed to encapsulate and express his electoral appeal over the next seven weeks.

Three years ago it was a Bob the Builder rip-off: "Can we fix it? Yes we can". This time it's more nuanced: "A man for a change".

Double meaning? But of course.

Taken at face value, it's simply the personalised version of NZ First's campaign catchphrase, "Your choice for change". Full of disdain for the "tired old parties" of Labour and National, it suggests: if you're sick of this Government, Winston's mob will sort you out.

But on another level, the slogan is Winston showing who wears the pants in this house. It's a dig at Helen Clark - the country's first elected woman prime minister - and her predecessor National's Jenny Shipley.

It's as though the member for Tauranga is just one of the boys down the pub. Propping up the bar, he asks: look mate, it's all very well letting the girls run things, but isn't it time for a bloke in charge again?

The uncharitable could even read it as a slight on the masculinity of that other prime ministerial hopeful, Don Brash, who struggled to forge a new image as an "ordinary bloke" by clambering awkwardly into a speedway car at Western Springs.

New Zealand needs a real man, Winston is saying, not some pointy-headed banker. A rough, tough parliamentary brawler who's been around the traps and knows how to keep the bastards honest.

I guess no one told him: Richard Prebble is retiring.

- Herald on Sunday

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