Unfashionable - and deliberately so.

New Zealand First's relative popularity resides in its offering the politically dazed and confused a vision of the future based on nostalgia for the relatively recent past.

The party is marooned in a time bubble of the economic boom of the 1950s along with the suffocating social conformity of that era.

Its unwillingness to confront that myth of a better past will ultimately be the death of it as those who lived through those times and who gain comforting reassurance from Winston Peters' pronouncements pass away.

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The longer Peters fails to address this underlying threat to the party's longevity - along with at least publicly acknowledging the necessity for some indication of how he will manage the question of leadership succession - the likelihood of the party's survival as a potent political force continues to diminish.

As much as the public has been able to ascertain, that day of reckoning was once again postponed at the party's annual conference last weekend. The party seemed more intent on swimming against the prevailing political currents, seemingly as much for the sake of being seen to be different from its competitors as upholding its core principles.

That was very much the case with Peters' keynote address to delegates. The old master castigated National for "governing for the few". He slammed Labour for long having accused him of racism and xenophobia, only for that party to make the same criticisms of immigration policy that he had, but without the same conviction.

But as much as the speech fizzed, it then fizzled.

It turned out New Zealand First's solution to the country's supposed economic woes was to dredge up the party's historic hankering for work-for-the-dole schemes.

It was another case of New Zealand First going back to the future in its policy development. It appears the party is still wedded to a concept which produced very mixed results in terms of getting people back to work when it was in vogue in the late 1990s.

The majority of political thinking now favours the "investment" approach to getting people off the benefit through intensive management of circumstances that preclude an individual's return to the workforce. The sharp drop in beneficiary numbers is seen as vindication for that approach, although a more buoyant job market has also been a major factor.

Other political parties are now instead grappling with the modern-day political complexities of turning the minimum wage into a living wage, while New Zealand First is trying to resurrect what it calls the "community wage".

It is hard to see the attraction of workfare schemes given the relative success of National's approach - and the likelihood that Labour would not change things in any fundamental way. Times have moved on. New Zealand First has not.

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