Coalition negotiations revealed as a farce

PLUS:  A plan for National in 2020. UPDATE: Morgan vs Paddles.

Up until yesterday, it was something of a mystery why National lost out to Labour in the tussle for Winston Peters’ affection.

After all, Labour made relatively minor concessions to NZ First to secure its coalition deal. The minor party did not get any finance role, nor its centrepiece demand for sweeping immigration cuts. And another signature policy – moving the Auckland port to Whangarei – was sidelined to a feasibility study.

Now, with his discovery action alleging a breach of the Privacy Act, the reason appears obvious: Mr Peters blamed senior National MPs for leaking his national super over-payments to leaders, and wanted to get revenge.

Lawyer and commentator Graeme Edgeler says it’s not necessarily significant that Mr Peters signed the papers for his legal action the day before the election. The NZ First leader could, equally, have used them as leverage in his negotiations with National.

But if Winston did try to use it as leverage, you would have expected National to have leaked that detail by now.

In any case, Mr Peters' grudge against National goes deeper. There’s also the fact that National ran hard against him in Northland, causing him the embarrassment of losing his seat. And there is also the bad blood between the NZ First leader and Bill English over the Todd Barclay txts.

That leaves a problem for National: If NZ First is off the table, who could it ally with in 2020?

One option is to do an electorate deal with The Opportunities Party which was able to gain a respectable 2.4% of the vote in its first time at bat – and which, with the assurance of a seat in Parliament, and a bit of media training for its leader, could quite feasibly go higher. The downsides: Some see TOP as the natural successor to ACT but there’s no guarantee Gareth Morgan’s party would align with National, or that it will even contest the next election.*

Another would be to roll Bill English and replace him with a leader more amenable to Mr Peters (although it couldn’t be Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett or Anne Tolley, who are all also named in the NZ First leader’s pre-filing discovery process).

More broadly, National needs a clear strategy for dealing with NZ First.

Commentator Matthew Hooton says Bill English should have either embraced Winston Peters and given him a free run in Northland or shunned him altogether – as John Key did in 2008 with his pledge not to go into government with NZ First, tipping some wavering NZ First voters into the National camp.

As it was, National fell indecisively in between. To make the same mistake in 2020 would be to throw the election.

First Cat Paddles

POSTSCRIPT: Some people just aren't good at politics

*If TOP does decide to contest 2020, it will still have to overcome its leader's tin ear for politics.

Gareth Morgan's gormlessness was again on show this morning following the death of the PM's cat Paddles in a car accident.

He took it upon himself to attack the First Cat (or "it" as he called her, with is stunning lack of empathy) on social media within a couple of hours of the news breaking.

True, the tone-deaf TOP leader's tweet did draw a belly laugh from one of my colleagues but I'm not sure that was his intention.

Time, and place Gareth, time and place.

Lastly, I'm sure that while one Chris Hipkins mourns the loss of Paddles, I suspect he's also quietly relieved to see the First Cat's passing now dominating the news cycle as Stuff, Newshub and others inevitably overplay it.

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