You have to admire Winston Peters' tenacity.
Despite all the obstacles facing himself and his party between now and the election - from the SFO to being ruled out by National - he's clearly still got it and can make it work for him. Cleverly, he's probably already played the cards that might inoculate him somewhat from the looming Covid-19 blowback.
Much of the voting population probably has no idea yet how bad this is going to get. We've had warnings this week of as many as three waves of redundancies and up to 10 per cent of Kiwis suffering depression related to this crisis, but warnings are just words. Until it happens, many won't appreciate the true pain of an economic depression.
• Heather du Plessis-Allan: We've lost our senses over Covid-19
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• Heather du Plessis-Allan: It's silly to criticise businesses for taking the wage subsidy
At that point voters will blame the Government for the decisions it took. Was the wage subsidy enough? Should there have been commercial rent relief to keep businesses going? Was level 4 necessary? Did level 4 go on too long? Should retailers have been allowed to open under level 3?
How many voters will turn septic over these questions is anyone's guess. It may be a few, it may be many.
But Peters has already moved to protect his party from that anger by giving several interviews in which he repeatedly stated the importance of the economy. He never went as far as saying that protecting the economy was more important than protecting health. He just said enough to create the impression it's what he thought. And so reporters and commentators fell into the trap of thinking Peters and party have argued in Cabinet against the restrictions forced on us, but I'm not convinced that was the case.
Case in point is the (possibly angry) tweet Peters sent out criticising a reporter's suggestion that he was opposed to the extension of level 4. Peters tweeted, "NZF isn't opposed to a short extension to L4 if it's the best course of action". Peters very cleverly has a foot in both camps so that, depending on which way the public mood eventually swings, he can argue that was his position all along.
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He also quite wisely stayed away from Wellington. If voters do eventually blame the Government for killing the economy, they will likely attach that blame and anger to the face they most closely associate with the government response: the Prime Minister. Just as she benefits from public support of the restrictions, she might be punished by public opposition. There may prove to be a correlation with a Cabinet Minister's distance from the Beehive and the amount of blame they cop. Out of sight, out of mind. So, while it seemed that being based in Whananaki risked creating the impression Winston was AWOL in the early days of lockdown, maybe he'll be proven wise in choosing the beach as his lockdown location.
Still, it clearly bothers him that he will cop some blame for choosing health over the economy. That might explain why he went public with the surprising revelation that Cabinet rejected Health Ministry advice to lock the borders to even New Zealand citizens. It was an unusual revelation because ministers rarely volunteer information on Cabinet discussions.
It wasn't a great example to use, though. It didn't prove that Cabinet was prepared to resist the Health Ministry and prioritise the economy. Arguably, Cabinet's decision further eroded the economy by choosing to allow infected citizens to keep arriving and risking a much longer level 4 lockdown. Which is exactly what we got. It also undermined the PM's favourite message that she's been "going hard and going early". That's tough to argue when we now know the Health Ministry was pushing for a closed border to Kiwis two weeks before the PM finally ordered returning New Zealanders to quarantine on arrival.
But that is unlikely to concern Peters. He's hardly shown much concern for causing headaches for this PM.
I'd expect that what we've seen this week will be part of his recipe for the election: a bit of nostalgia for a New Zealand that manufactured its own products, a bit of division with Labour - whether real or not - and a bit of a headache for the PM.