Election 2011: Winston Peters' dramatic rise from the mire

By Leah Haines

At 67, Winston Peters is a veteran of 28 years in Parliament. Photo / Natalie Slade
At 67, Winston Peters is a veteran of 28 years in Parliament. Photo / Natalie Slade

There is a saying about old fishermen. They don't die, they just smell that way.

Maybe it was the stench of political death surrounding New Zealand First over the past three years that had most of us fooled into thinking Winston Peters was history.

Yet in the way only Peters ever could, Parliament's wiliest old-timer arose from the mire in the last days of the campaign, to stage one of the most dramatic political comebacks in history.

He wasn't politically dead. He'd just been fishing.

Suddenly, there he was again: his pearly white grin leading the 6 o'clock news as he made a meal of "tea-gate", or what Victoria University political scientist Jon Johansson describes as Key's "massive friggin' blunder". A dash of scandal, a pinch of conspiracy, and, finally a platform to cook it all up on.

By Wednesday last week, Peters was in full conspiratorial flight. "We are in the last days of the election campaign and they've got us surrounded!" he preached to a crowd of 150 at Auckland's Aotea Square.

To say he'd been plotting this inevitable return is to deny the huge opportunity that luck afforded him. But that he so masterfully exploited it is testament to his political savvy and raw gumption.

Key may be clever with numbers, but Peters, a former teacher, lawyer and representative rugby player is a mercurial, and obsessive, survivor.

Plus, he has the "W" Factor.

Who else could have been on the way to the podium to concede he'd lost Tauranga in 1999 only to have the numbers change on the board behind him and to be announced winner before he'd got his speech notes out?

At 67, Peters is a veteran of 28 years in Parliament, much of which he has spent exposing, or starring in, some form of dramatic scandal.

A self-styled man of the people, he campaigned in 2002 on keeping the buggers honest by rejecting the "baubles of office" only to emerge, post election, with the Minister-ship of Foreign Affairs dripping off him like some giant, jangly, medallion.

He has quit governments, formed governments, and almost broken governments.

But always he's lived to tell the tale.

That was till 2008; Peter's annus horribilis - which saw him lose the election on the back of a fundraising scandal that, to this day, has seriously damaged his credibility. It was the same year that he lost his best mate, former NZ First MP Brian Donnelly, and his beloved mum.

Three years later, it's almost spooky to say he's back again, with a team of old faces, and some new, like his well-regarded number two Tracey Martin, a Rodney councillor and mother of three.

Exactly how they'll affect the shape of opposition or Government will become clear in the next few days.

Peters has insisted they're going into opposition and he will hold the "balance of responsibility". But as is common with Peters, no one really knows exactly what any of that means.

- Herald on Sunday

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