Winston Peters is famously known as the Government's "handbrake" — the politician who has single-handedly stopped the Coalition implementing policies that businesspeople tend not to like. Capital gains taxes for one.
He has been so successful in this role that when it came to actually advocating for a policy that really mattered — introducing a tough testing and border regime to curtail the spread of Covid-19 earlier this year — he failed to marshall support within Cabinet.
Not "on brand", you might say.
From a business perspective, Peters has proven to be a moderating influence on Labour and the Greens. After he addressed a recent breakfast, some attendees were quick to agree that New Zealand First's campaign slogan should be "Vote for the brake!" He is also happy for his party to be known as the "handbrake". His not-so-subtle message is: elect us if you want to prevent a Labour/Greens Coalition that will simply implement a socialist agenda.
This message has cut-through with some businesspeople who can see the utility of voting strategically to prevent a big swing towards "the State" in the event that NZ First does not make it back to Parliament. But it doesn't really cut it with the public. Not yet. New Zealand First has been down at around 2-3 per cent in party preferences in political polls.
The Act party under David Seymour's leadership is now in the ascendancy.
Problem is, when it came to what should have been Peters' crowning glory in politics — gaining Cabinet support for the measures he says he advocated from day one to curtail the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus — he proved to be impotent.
Peters has this week amped up his election campaign rhetoric, putting the political blame for all the problems that later emerged with border security and the earlier failure to fully deliver on Covid-19 testing commitments at the feet of the Labour ministers in Cabinet.
"We could have done better on Covid-19. That's a fact," Peters said on Wednesday.
"You'll never get anywhere if everyone thinks we've done the best job in the world.
"We haven't done as well as we could have done."
Covid testing was not up to scratch. Surveillance wasn't happening. The "oversight and scrutiny that should have been done by the military was not happening".
It is tempting to regard this rhetoric as just Peters needing to conveniently differentiate himself and New Zealand First from Labour and the Greens as the October 19 election nears. At least that is what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would want New Zealanders to believe.
Ardern told Parliament she "stands proudly" on the Government's record on fighting Covid-19.
"We should all be proud of the efforts of New Zealanders in this global pandemic, because whilst it surges globally, we have continued to take a process of elimination that puts us in the best position to protect New Zealanders' health and the best position for our economy to recover," she said.
Dig deeper and Peters does have a point.
It is a fact that Cabinet ministers failed to ensure officials delivered on what they promised. Ardern would not have had to strengthen her Covid team by giving ministers Megan Woods and Chris Hipkins key responsibilities if all had been rosy.
It is also arguable that the initial lockdown may not have been so lengthy and so costly if the Ardern-led Covid-19 Cabinet committee had followed the policies that Peters advocated. Particularly, to mirror Taiwan, which has been the standout success in combating the virus pandemic.
Peters is not alone in advocating such measures within New Zealand.
Former Major-General Martyn Dunne also thought along similar lines and made his views clear behind the scenes.
Dunne, who had also been boss of both Customs and the Ministry for Primary Industries, was well-versed in just what was needed to fight off a biosecurity threat.
In reality, the failure to implement tough measures early meant the border remained porous.
NZ First has advocated a Border Protection Force as part of its campaign policies. It wants to shift quarantine facilities on to military bases and away from city-based hotels.
But the political ground is shifting under Peters.
Labour can now claim the Government is successfully ramping up border testing by requiring all workers to be tested. The Defence Force is now running the show. More New Zealanders have taken to using the Covid-19 tracing app.
The question remains: was it deep inexperience and Ardern's trusting mentality that led the Cabinet committee to reject Peters' initial call to bring in the military to provide security at the border and to ramp up testing?
Or was it outright pique at the Deputy Prime Minister who had scuttled their own policies so many times that they would not grant him a victory on Covid?