There is little NZ First leader Winston Peters hates more than someone stealing his thunder.
United Future leader Peter Dunne can expect some comeuppance for committing such a sin when he and Peters were in Samoa for the All Blacks-Manu Samoa game this month. A group of MPs were at a function hosted by Samoa's Speaker, who had asked Winston Peters, a matai, to deliver a speech.
Yet when the moment came, Peter Dunne shot to his feet and started to speak. Dunne later claimed it was a misunderstanding and he was not told Peters had been asked to speak by the hosts. He said as the only minister at the function he thought it was his place. There was some scepticism about this excuse. The programme MPs were given specified Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters was the speaker. Other MPs at the function said they were told Peters was to speak. Added to that, Dunne and Peters are longstanding foes and Dunne rarely misses the opportunity to take a dig at Peters.
This will not worry Peters a jot because every time Dunne does it, it serves to remind people Peters' party is on a healthy 8 per cent support in the polls while Dunne's is around zilch.
This weekend Peters will travel to Rotorua for his party's annual conference. He will be quite entitled to be a bit smug about his place in the world. Peters is once again a power on the rise. He has the Northland victory under his belt and in two polls in the past fortnight he has either been on level pegging or higher in support as preferred Prime Minister than Labour leader Andrew Little.
That has delighted National because it leaves Little answering questions on whether he is still the "Leader of the Opposition". It will also delight Peters. What will delight him more is the same polls show NZ First with the balance of power.
Peters clearly got some momentum from the Northland win. The question is whether he's made the most of it.
Since the Northland byelection Peters has been travelling the regions trying to replicate his Northland success across provincial New Zealand. Unfortunately in the process he took his eye off Auckland leaving a gap Labour neatly stepped into and stole the march on what should have been Peters' hunting ground - foreign buyers. That prompted National (and some in Labour) to criticise Little as being Peters-Lite. It was wedge politics even though Labour denies this was the goal. And Peters has largely hitherto had a monopoly on wedges.
It is not the only area in which Peters is finding his podium crowded by Labour. When Prime Minister John Key announced the process to change the flag, NZ First was alone in opposing it. Suddenly Labour decided it would oppose it, despite wanting a change in flag. All Peters could do was harrumph about those "who wanted to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds".
Then came the Trans-Pacific Partnership, long opposed by Peters and as of this week, apparently by Labour.
Peters also accuses National of poaching from NZ First on issues such as free GP visits and, more recently, immigration changes to try to attract migrants to the regions. Last week, NZ First MP Clayton Mitchell announced he would invite Key and Little to join NZ First since they had adopted its policies. Yesterday, he delivered membership forms to both. Key even filled his out and returned it. Under the box which asked if he agreed with NZ First policies, Key added: : "only the ones that align to National."
The venue of the NZ First conference is just up the road from the Rotorua Convention Centre where Peters delivered his infamous "baubles of office" speech in 2005. Peters' holy grail now is the same as in 2005 when he delivered that speech. It is to get the balance of power. He was disappointed to be cheated of that in 2011 and 2014. His related aim is to overtake the Green Party.
Peters has assiduously refused to pick sides when it comes to possible coalitions in advance of elections. There is little sign that has changed. Little has revealed Labour held formal meetings with the Greens, but indicated NZ First relations were a work in progress, with little emphasis on the progress.
This week the two did find some happy mutual ground. Little declared the national anthem was a dirge and New Zealanders preferred to sing the Australian anthem. Peters, whose own home up north is indeed girt by sea, surprisingly said he agreed with the dirge comparison and need to change it. "Advance Aotearoa Fair," anyone?