The most important element in any negotiation is each side’s BATNA – Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. In other words, how good or bad it would be for either side to walk away from the table. This article will argue that, ultimately, Winston Peters ought to go with Labour and the Greens, for the reason that he can wring a better deal for himself (and for the nationalists he represents) out of that side.
The deal that Peters ought to offer Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw is this: support Peters as Prime Minister for this next term at least, with Ardern in an apprentice role as Deputy. Let’s have a coalition Government that’s mostly Labour with certain New Zealand First mandarins in high places and James Shaw in Cabinet somewhere, maybe Julie Ann Genter as well.
Peters will be the Prime Minister, so if anything goes wrong he can take the blame for it when he retires. But if everything goes right, we get at least one, hopefully two terms of stable centre-left government, at which point Peters retires triumphant.
This should allow us to undo the game of hot potato that our immigration system has become and whack the minimum wage up to a point at which our working class have a standard of living similar to Australia and the rest of the West.
And if everything keeps going right, Ardern will step naturally into the role after those two terms when Winston rides off into the sunset.
This will achieve several purposes: it will allow for a change in Government from the hyper-neoliberal National Party; it will neutralise criticisms that Ardern is too young and inexperienced to take on the top role; it will help Winston Peters fulfill ultimate career objectives.
For Ardern that’s a pretty sweet deal. There’s no reason to think that this deal will be considered part of the electoral pendulum from Labour to National to Labour to National to Labour to National to Labour to National to Labour to National, which means that if Peters does step down after one or two terms of measured, calm, reasonable and dignified leadership, there won’t be a sense that it’s National’s “turn”.
This would mean that Ardern, at age 43, will be in prime intellectual condition to begin her own three-term reign of Prime Minister.
The BATNA for Labour and Ardern is that Peters throws his support in behind National and the country has to endure another three years of neoliberalism, except this time not under the shrewd cunning of John Key but under the blundering, hamfisted efforts of Bill English, with the baby-eating banshee of Paula Bennett shrieking in his ear all the while.
This is a pretty bad alternative, all things considered. It’s effectively a total loss.
Bill English simply couldn’t accept a deal that was this sweet to Peters. His backers expect nothing less than the Ninth Floor, and there would be howls of outrage from his own party if he gave up the Prime Minister’s Office to the leader of a party that won less than a sixth of the votes of National.
National also has a much better BATNA than Labour does. Even if Peters agrees to go with Labour and the Greens to form an African coalition, that coalition would still have to succeed and to provide stable government, for if it didn’t, the electorate would be only too happy to give National another chance under Bennett.
Some in National might be only too happy to let some kind of Labour-New Zealand First-Greens abomination tear itself to pieces for three years (or less) and then set up a three-term Sixth National Government under Bennett or Steven Joyce or some other half-witted order follower.
For this reason, Peters will understand that Labour will be more incentivised to maintain a stable Government than National will. The National Party social media machine proved itself exceptionally effective at raising an angry mob at the peak of the Metiria Turei affair, and if their working relationship with Winston Peters fell apart it could be predicted that the electorate would put the blame on Peters.
This all means that Peters has much more leverage to use against and with Labour and the Greens than he does with National.