Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Winston woos with one-liners

Winston Peters likes to hold his campaign meetings the old fashioned way - on the street, soapbox style. Photo / APN
Winston Peters likes to hold his campaign meetings the old fashioned way - on the street, soapbox style. Photo / APN

NZ First leader Winston Peters appears to have been reincarnated as Aunt Daisy.

He is on his "Commonsense Roadshow" and determined to live up to its name.

At a public meeting in Whangarei, he gives out power-saving tips. Turn off your hot water heater except for two hours in the morning and at night. He guarantees you'll never have a cold shower. Hot water rises, he says.

At a rest home in Whangarei, he tells them how to get rid of head lice. His father shaved all the children's heads. In Blenheim, it's how to fix a toaster. In between his handy home hints, Peters rails at his enemies.

John Key is responsible for all manner of evil from dirty politics to calling an early election. The early election has made Peters' life difficult. He likes to hold his campaign meetings the old fashioned way - on the street, soapbox style. In early spring, the weather is inclement. The street corner is cheap. There are no venue hire or power costs. The other reason he likes it is that it invites hecklers and random passers-by.

"You get a heckler, and all of a sudden you've got a show."

He gets them to shout things like "Amen" and "it's common sense" and they do.

His nemesis is Conservative leader Colin Craig. Craig's crime is that he has policies in common with Peters. Peters can't bring himself to mention Craig by name, calling him the moon landing and chem trail guy.

In Blenheim, Peters accuses Craig of "dog whistling" to get votes by picking up policies such as restricting foreign land buyers and "one law for all". He says this without a trace of irony. It's not dog whistling for him, "because we have a proven track record".

Kim Dotcom's crime is that he is a foreigner who is rich and funding a rival small party. Peters says he should never have been allowed in, and not just because of his various misdemeanours.

"How did he ever survive the body mass index test?" The crowd roar in delight.

He has words for the left as well and their big spending promises. "Like money grows on trees! The country will go broke!"

In the next breath, and again without a trace of irony, he sets out his own promises: GST off food and rates, pots of money for rail and buying back state assets. There are tax cuts for businesses to compensate for lifting the minimum wage to $17 an hour "and everybody will be better off!"

Outside the Motueka Museum on a Wednesday morning he ends up with about 60 people and four seagulls. When the gulls scrap overhead he says they remind him of the Act Party.

"All squawking, no substance and any moment now something bad is going to drop on you."

This is how Peters picks off his 5 per cent of voters, one at a time in long days of travelling the rest homes and soapbox meetings across the provinces.

You won't catch Peters kissing a baby. His constituency is at the other end of town. His campaign is to the soundtrack of quietly puffing nebulisers, Amens, nostalgia, humour and righteous fury. He scaremongers too. He tells those in Whangarei that it is the "Cinderella province" - forgotten and woebegotten.

He speaks of a rumour Northland rail is for the chop and warns the seniors in Motueka that if they are not vigilant, super will be cut.

He harks back to a New Zealand of the 1950s and 1960s when everybody had a job and immigrants didn't take them. "We're not anti-immigration up here," he says. "Crikey! I'm half Scots."

He talks of Holyoake, Rowling and Nash, the Great War, the Great Depression. He promises them the past as they remember it in the future.

Afterward they tell him he looks younger than on the television and line up for photos. An Austrian man called Alfred says he's young but he'll vote for Peters because "you'll keep them honest". An older man in a cowboy hat stands by him for a selfie.

At the end of his rest home visit in Whangarei, a woman asks how he managed to stay out of the dirty politics stuff. He flashes that grin. "I wear tennis shoes, and I make sure I keep ahead of sin." They chortle in delight at his nonsensical common sense.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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