Curiosity overcame me last Friday and I went to see Winston Peters speak at the Baptist Church in Hastings.

I’ve never seen him perform in person before. I was not disappointed. He was worth far more in entertainment value than my gold coin admission.

I’ve been to two other political events in that venue. In 2007, HB Today sponsored a local candidates’ forum. All the Hastings Council candidates attended, and maybe a few Regional Council contenders as well. Anyway, there were as many candidates as voters in the hall.

Then I saw John Key speak there. He was already PM as I recall. He got a bigger crowd, but not a full house.

On Friday, virtually every seat was taken for Winston Peters, with most of the crowd grey and white-haired. Peters was moved to point out that most politicians could fit their audience into a phone booth (remember those?).

Peters is an enviable politician … in the sense that he has all the qualities that can endear him to an audience.

A great speaking style, charming and seemingly (but only seemingly) unrehearsed. Simple, emotional language. Great story-telling. Sharp wit. Ceaseless humour. Charismatic.

And, a very keen sense of what buttons to push … and who and what to demonize. If you’re an older New Zealander afraid that something good and treasured about the past is slipping away, and those in power are letting it happen (maybe even abetting it), then Winston is your man, hands down.

From exorbitant milk prices to Chinese investers and immigrants, rapacious Telecom, Don Brash and the ACT branch of the National Party, and more, Winston knows who’s out to get you!

Peters also has a gift that only the most special politicians possess … being spectacular at posing a problem or failure or threat, with the audience not aware until they get home that no credible solution was offered. But by then they decide it was so entertaining, and he so nailed the problem, that the lack of any solution that can withstand real scrutiny is forgiven. This works  for Peters because although he’s policy vague, he communicates his values very clearly and unmistakeably.

The best politicians communicate values, not policies.

Peters reminded me of an old boss of mine, Ted Turner. In the days when he was trying to save the world, I accompanied Ted to many speeches. Ted had earned, deservedly, the moniker of Mouth of the South. He could insult any gender, class, race, sexual preference, religion, or belief, anytime … sometimes by accident, sometimes to make a point.

But he’s also a passionate environmentalist and nuclear disarmer. And he can quote Greek and Roman poets at length. So audiences didn’t know what to make of him.

Time after time I sat in the back and watched the same scenario unfold … always to a full house. He would start by offending much of the audience with outlandish comments unrelated to the subject at hand. You’d hear some muttering; a few people might even leave. Then he’d warm up to the subject (saving the world from self-inflicted extinction), he’d rip into the political establishment and the lunacy of certain public policies, and by the end get a standing ovation.

I’d love to see a Turner-Peters debate. Winston Peters isn’t quite as good. But he’s up there. I haven’t seen any other national politician, any other party leader, come close.

Time after time, you find yourself thoroughly enjoying his skewering of Key (everything is ‘aspirational’, as in never to be achieved) and other Nats, Brash, Roger Douglas, Telecom, Australian banks. Then he’ll tap emotionally into Kiwi pride. Then he’ll lambaste some awful policy or dire trend, usually with humour. You chuckle, and might realize that he didn’t actually offer an alternative. Then he’ll say something a shrewd hair’s width shy of racist, and you shudder.

Through all of this, he doesn’t hold back … like what he says or not, there’s no mistaking his passion. And passion is what most politicians keep out of view as they strive for the palatable and not to offend.

So, I haven’t swooned over Winston Peters. Plenty of room for disagreement over values, policies and ethics. But I have to say, I was thoroughly impressed.

If you haven’t seen the Peters performance in person, you’re really missing out.

Tom Belford

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9 Comments

  1. I fit into the grey-haired brigade but because I was working couldn't get to hear Winston. I have heard one other viewpoint so I appreciate your review.

    My opinion is that we need the wisdom of our elders. I work with younger people who have never had the historical perspective of 'what NZ was' say in the 1970s therefore they are disconnected and thrashing around for anything to believe in. Their attachments are most unfortunately to the almighty dollar and what it purchases. I guess you'd have to work with them to get the depth of my meaning.

    An example, I could offer is the shallowness of our current politicians, for instance the rolling of Rodney Hide by Don Brash who wasn't even an ACT member. Further example, is the carry on of the Maori Party, a one-issue Party that failed to deliver on that policy causing the internal fight with Hone Harawira.

    Both the above are examples of the instability and opportunism that suffices for politics in today's NZ.

    On the other hand, there is, Winston and his loyal followers are consistent. For those who like to know what they are 'really' voting for, NZ First offers some form of surety. And in these days of economic worries many of us would welcome the security of politicians who care about NZers first.

  2. As I understand it , Ted Turner was bi-polar so his " rants " were relative to his state of mind on the day, perhaps…I don't think this would apply to Winston.

    You hit the nail on the head when you described Winston as an " entertainer" because that's about all he is these days.

    He and Hone should team up…all style , no substance..

    Our country is in fragile state and the last thing we need is the "vaudeville show" destabilising it even more with promises that can never be substantiated !

  3. Agree with every word on Winston. He was on top form last Friday. What an orator. As you say, he just doesn't have any policies or solution. But he has, as he says, kept all his promises to the elderly.

  4. Winston is certainly a class act and great entertainment, as you say. And I doubt if Ted Turner would have fared as well in New Zealand as Winston did in Washington. But we need to analyse what Winston is saying, and what it means in the 2011 context.

    The National Pary led by John Key is consistently well ahead in the polls, and most of the news media are assuming Key will have at least another three years in power. Intentionally or not, the alternatives are being heavily discounted in terms of media coverage. HBToday being a case in point, for those of you who read it. Look how many color photos they are printing of messrs Key, Foss, Tremain and any other National identity that offers. Even Dick Harrison's widow! Labour doesn't get a look in.

    Key has decided he too believes he will win the 2011 election. So he is starting to commit his government to implementing the real National Party agenda – the policies that most kiwis don't actually want – all to be delivered next year. He is betting that the media will largely ignore this, and cover the government-sponsored side-shows instead. His people have lined up a whole series of these e.g. the trip to India for "trade negotiations" that have of course already been completed, behind closed doors, by the much-derided bureacrats. So far the Nat strategy is working just dandy.

    At the same time, a longer-term agenda is being advanced, by National, Act and the Business Round Table working together, to change our MMP electoral system back to one that we know gives the National Party an entrenched advantage.

    Again the assumption is the media won't pay too much attention, therefore neither will the public.

    Where does Winston fit in all this? He is a loose cannon, a player National can't easily control. The media is ignoring him, barely reporting a word he says. But he still attracts more people to his meetings than John Key. And the significant point is, who is he not criticising? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

    Winston may yet come back to be a king maker again. But only when there are enough people looking for a change.

  5. Good one Bill. Unfortunately there's a lot of folk out there, like Janice at top, who are sucked in to imagining they know what they're "really voting for"… when in fact they have no clue. Because the agenda is never public.

    Winston learnt that lesson when he was a Nat, because the Nats do it better than anyone else. Oh, I've accidentally rogered you? Gee, never mind, i'll pass you on to a mate who can do it to you again and you'll forget it was ever me in the first place.

  6. no I'm not sucked in by any politicians and their agendas. my point was that people who may support NZ First are looking for the security of the 1970s [real or imagined].

    Personally though I prefer the position of Winston on 'Maori matters', 'one law for all' and the like including his opinion that only Maori elites benefit from Treaty Claims.

    However, I acknowledge that Winston is mercurial and therefore not to be trusted. But there are elders in our communities who do value his rhetoric and thus his so-called standards.

    This makes him no worse than Key, English of the Nats; Hyde, Brash of ACT and Goff and others of the Labour Party. In fact, the more I know anyone of them the less I trust them.

  7. Here I am again. Just a thought. The reason Winston is rubbished is because he represents a NZer who is not focused on divisive 'race politics' [or 'selling off NZ']. That is he is not PC on 'race matters'.

    Imo, race politics is a diversion-something to keep Maori divided and preoccupied while the 'dominant white political class of NZ' continues on with its agenda What agenda? NZ for sale. NZ no more than a commodity. NZers of no value unless they are in the entrepreneurial class or management class or farming class.

    As for Maori those who remain in NZ are largely focused on 'preserving' their reinvented culture which includes a standardised Maori language. Government is quite happy to fund cultural events and Te Reo Maori-it placates PC Maori while government continues with its real agenda.

    Those Maori who recognise that the paramount issue is 'survival' are not PC Maori and large numbers are in Australia earning their survival. Many never to return. Mostly because they are well aware that any 'Treaty monies/resources' are appropriated by the few' and there will be no trickle down effect ever. Winston keeps saying this but he is laughed at because what he says is not PC. In their own way, the Mana Party is saying the same thing. The alliance of National and the Maori Party spells it out for those with the analysis to see.

    My view on this is taken from years within the education sector. The promotion of Te Reo Maori and Kapa Haka over and above all else in some Maori schools and whanau. The marginalisation of those Maori who refuse to fit into that mould by Pakeha and Maori alike e.g. Winston.

    The change each government is intent on making is revealed in its educational promotions e.g. Tourism and Entrepreneurship are biggies right now. 20 years back it was 'Maori lawyers to give the Govt people to negotiate Treaty Settlements with' and MBAs.

    Accountants and Economists are always popular.

    Yes, John Key will get in again. Labour doesn't appear to be putting up a fight and one wonders why?

    The Greens are Greens.

    The Maori Party are mana munchers and I'd never ever trust Pita Sharples or Tariana or Flavell. They represent themselves.

    The Mana Party are preparing for 2020 and want to be able to say to their grandchildren, 'I stood up against the last landgrabs';

    United Future go whichever way suits their worldview

    and Winston is having a last go at bringing back exactly what he stood for years ago 'NZ First' meaning 'all NZers'

    Unless, some sort of alliance can be forged between the minor parties the Nats have a clear road to victory. The economic situation is in their favour at present meaning People are scared of losing what they've got.

    Strangely, imo the trade agreements with India and China do not appear to be of apparent benefit to the majority of 'ordinary working class/ middle class' kiwis'.

    Can someone please enlighten me as to how the Indian agreement will improve NZ's economic situation?

    Finally, it will be the historians who look back upon these times that give the real measure of any politician. Imo, some will say that Winston should have been listened to and that he missed his real opportunity in the 90s when the Maori [and Anne Batten] he took into Parliament turned on him. That included Tau Henare who returned to the National Party. Who can trust them [National & Tau Henare] when they are that fickle? At least Winston & NZ First have remained true to their original premise.

  8. I have to say that firstly – I am in my early 40's rather than in my 60s or 70s, and I am a strong supporter of NZ First and Winston Peters. Not because of him being a "great entertainer" – in fact that is no reason for me whatsoever, but rather from his track record.

    People seem to be either ignorant of what Winston achieved in Gov't, maybe purposely or just from lack of knowledge. Or, they simply don't care what his party achieved in a fairly short amount of time, because they always vote for National or Labour – no matter what.

    Just a fraction of the achievements purely due to Winston's policies (you know, the policies you say he doesn't have?) are:

    – Free Dr's visits for children
    – Pay Parity for Primary School Teachers (after they fought for it for 100 years!)
    – 1000 extra Police
    – Lower business taxes (yes – he achieved that much to National's disgust that it wasn't them)
    – Free public transport for the elderly
    – Extra Maori Wardens
    – He saved the Racing industry from complete collapse
    – He exposed multi-billion dollar tax evasion (the implications of which literally effected tax evaders around the World)

    and the list goes on….

    Now his message is to save our assets, and to try and let people know the huge corruption that is occurring within the National led Gov't. (For just one example – Jenny Shipley and other National cohorts being appointed to a 'Panel' to oversee the earthquake reconstruction work, despite them having no knowledge about those matters whatsoever, and being paid more than double what was recommended).

    Yet – so many just "don't care". It really puzzles me how anyone (anyone!) would even contemplate a vote for National this year, and I used to be a Nat supporter! We have tens of thousands of families now struggling to feed their children. The Gov't slashing jobs everywhere, much in response to them granting contracts to Chinese companies instead of NZ companies. Jenny Shipley just happens to be an agent for Chinese companies – another coincidence I am sure. Making tax cuts – that really only benefited the very high income (most low to middle income earners took home up to $17 extra a week – high income earners took home between $100 and thousands more per week!).

    I guess you will get what you ask for though. But as a Parent, and a close analyst of Politics for many years – I suggest that a vote for National this election, will be one of those decisions you regret for life when you see the results of National getting another term. It is in your hands – I suggest for your children's future you give NZ First your party vote, at the very least it will put some accountability back into Gov't.

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