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Peters is still playing the political game

My relationship with Winston Peters goes back a long way.

It all started at school in Auckland, where his older brother, Jim Peters, did his utmost to teach me history. I scraped through what was then called School Certificate. During the year, Mr Peters would sometimes tell us stories about family life growing up on a farm in Northland. And about his brother Winston.

Education was in the family. The younger Winston followed in Jim’s footsteps and went to Auckland Teachers’ Training College before he went on to teach at Te Atatū Intermediate School, not too far from me. It’s possible the unique west Auckland outlook didn’t gel with the new teacher, so he upped sticks and headed over the Tasman where he worked in a blast furnace for BHP in Newcastle and later as a tunneler in the Snowy Mountains.

The heat of the furnace and working toward the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel would prove to be useful grounding for a career in the hotbed of national politics. So would be a few years working in the legal fraternity.

Whatever your opinion of Winston Peters, and most people seem to have one, his longevity is noteworthy. He has been part of the New Zealand political scene for something approaching 50 years. And he’s keen on at least three more. At age 78, most of his contemporaries have long since retired. Not Peters. He seems as pugnacious and as cunning as ever. And we’ve seen a lot of those two traits.

It has not always been smooth sailing, far from it, but Peters has an uncanny knack for tapping into a sector of the population with just the right slogan to win just enough votes to be part of the negotiations about who will form the next government, one way or another.

Some might call this ‘game-playing’. If it is, he is very effective at it.

And here we are, just weeks away from a general election and look who is grabbing headlines away from the major parties and creating his own unique, perfect storm. Winston Peters.

Who else would have the current Prime Minister and the would-be Prime Minister fielding pointed media questions about NZ First and whether they would be prepared to ‘work’ with them after the election? Chris Hipkins looked almost angry at having to clarify Labour’s position. Well, as angry as his boyish looks would allow anyway.

Chris Luxon doesn’t want to make a commitment to any linking of the two, just in case he needs a supply and confidence arrangement, post-October 14.

At his political core, Peters has barely changed. If he thinks he is right, or certainly if someone else is wrong, there is little anyone can do to persuade him otherwise.

His tangles with the media are legendary. Many a journalist has been cut down by his sharp wit and even sharper tongue. Though he is publicly scathing of journalists, and not above bringing legal action if he perceives a slight, it doesn’t stop him from talking to them – and often socialising with some of them. And on that subject, it’s a firm “no comment’’ from me.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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