Winston Peters' new right-hand man in Parliament faces a difficult transition from academia - but that could be helped by a role more focused on giving political advice.

Political commentator and University of Victoria senior lecturer in comparative politics Jon Johansson was named as New Zealand First's chief of staff by Peters last week.

He is already at work in the Beehive. Johansson has declined to discuss his role, but the Herald understands it may be more narrow than the traditional chief of staff role, focusing on providing political advice.

Johansson's research specialties include New Zealand and American politics, and political leadership.


His new job has surprised Claire Robinson, a political commentator and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Massey University's College of Creative Arts, who said the work Johansson would now do was drastically different.

"And his heart is more aligned with Labour politics than NZ First's populist politics. As I understand it, he and Winston have been friends for a while."

Johansson would take to the job a good understanding of New Zealand politics, Robinson said.

"He's affable, knows his way around Parliament and will have colleagues in the Labour Party who he will have good existing relationships with.

"However, I fear he'll find the transition between University and Parliament quite difficult. Parliament is much more fast-paced than the university teaching and research environment. Academics have the privilege of having time to think. In Parliament he will have little time to think about issues."

Robinson said Johansson would give advice on the wide range of issues that Peters as Deputy Prime Minister would need to cover. He would also need to wrangle the New Zealand First caucus and manage staff when Peters is overseas in his capacity as Foreign Minister.

"A lot of coalition policy negotiation is conducted between the chiefs of staff, and he'll have to become adept at strategic compromise. But if he doesn't quickly earn the trust of the NZ First caucus by being an effective representative of the party's policies he'll be in trouble," Robinson said.

"He hasn't had a lot of staff or strategic management experience in his senior lecturer role, and it will be a steep learning curve."


Former NZ First MP Richard Prosser, who left Parliament after the last election, said he thought Johansson was an unusual choice for the crucial chief of staff role, previously filled by David Broome.

"The obvious advantage is having somebody who is a recognised performer in the field of politics going into a job that does require a lot of negotiation and consensus-building across three reasonably disparate parties.

"But in terms of the other requirements of the job of being chief of staff - management of people, of issues, of competing egos and so forth, I don't know anything about Jon Johansson's background that ideally qualifies him for that.

"He may well have that ... looking from the outside, it seems he is ideally suited to one half of the job and of unknown capability for the other half."

Prosser said the chief of staff had to work extremely closely with the leader.

"So that everybody - from caucus members, to party members to the media and people in Parliamentary Services - know that if they are talking to the chief of staff, they are effectively talking to the leader. An enormous amount of understanding and trust has to be there in that side of the relationship."

Johansson's past statements on NZ First are already being examined, with one person on Twitter highlighting an interview from 2005 which aired on Australian ABC radio in 2005.

The interviewer asked Johansson what he thought would be said about Peters if he failed to get re-elected.

Johansson responded: "Well, that he was mercurial, charismatic, but really was never a team player, and as such, in terms of legacy, there's really not much of a record there at all. It's always in a sense been more of a style over substance."

However, he also said he was loathe to write off Peters, who he compared to a Russian doll: "Every time you think it's gone, there's another one appears".