New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has given no hint of any intention to retire, and instead declared his party will be back in 2023.
Peters used his speech at the party's AGM in Auckland today to slam a multitude of parties and policies including Labour, National, the Greens, the use of the word "Aotearoa" instead of "New Zealand" in Government reports, the Auckland cycle bridge, Auckland light rail and "Ngati Woke".
He accused Labour of bad faith politics last term by "deliberately" suppressing the He Puapua report, for "breath-taking economic illiteracy" in its feebate scheme, and for pushing through infrastructure – such as Auckland's $785 million cycle bridge – without doing the proper costings.
"This [He Puapua] report is a recipe for Māori separatism. They knew it and that's why they suppressed it till after the election … it was a gesture of ingratitude and bad faith.
"Growing in our country is a 'cancel culture' where anyone who asks legitimate questions is belittled as a colonialist, a racist, a bigot, a chauvinist, or worse still, not new wokage."
He spoke of the disruption Auckland would face if light rail went ahead, and said the "City of Sails has become the City of Snails".
Last term he claimed credit for the dumping of the Government's feebate scheme, and he said its reintroduction would just push up prices for low- to middle-income families.
"How many working-class men and women regardless of their ethnic background, are going to be able to afford your EV alternative? What will happen to the old EV batteries? Can you see the Greens running now?
"We were pilloried for being the handbrake, but since the last election hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders are coming to understand why we were essential and now why we are missed.
"We are a phoenix that will again rise as the public wake up to the inexactitude of this Government and a hapless National Party."
He also attacked the media, who some party members called "the enemy" as they entered the conference room this afternoon.
"We are coming back because we believe we can."
After the speech Shane Jones said he believed Peters would lead the party back to Parliament in 2023.
He said the election result last year was like Steve Hansen after a bad All Blacks' game, saying it was one bad result that should be flushed down the toilet and moved on from.
Earlier Julian Paul was confirmed as the new party president, and party members at the AGM were optimistic about the party's chances in 2023 and insistent that Peters should lead the charge.
The AGM has focused on the party's review of the 2017 campaign, and the membership wanted a more positive focus.
Josh Van Veelden, a member and former researcher for Peters, said the failure of the 2017 campaign came down to a combination of factors.
"The main factor was that New Zealand First was out of touch with its voter base. There was a perception that the quintessential New Zealand First voter is this kind of right-wing, reactionary, racist bigot.
"That's just not the kind of sentiment that has attracted them to this party."
He said people usually gravitate to the party was for "positive" reasons, but the 2017 campaign was very negative, highlighting the party as the handbrake on Labour rather than what it had achieved.
He said the challenge for the party to rise like it did in 2011, having failed to return to Parliament in 2008, would be even harder in 2023.
"There's this perception that Winston is maybe too old or past it. I don't think that's true or very accurate, but that's the perception they're up against.
"I think he can and should lead the party in 2023. He is the only viable leader for the party. If anyone can do it, it's Winston."
Asked about Shane Jones or Fletcher Tabuteau as possible leaders, Van Veen said they were very competent but "they're not Winston".
He said the ongoing court case involving the New Zealand First Foundation, which rocked the party's campaign last year, might still play a hand in the party's fortunes in 2023.
"It's certainly problematic. It is a kind of an albatross around the neck. And a lot will depend on that ultimately.
"But they can counter it, I'm sure, It comes back to the vision and the values, and having something positive to offer."
Ranjith de Silva said the public didn't really know the party's policies during the campaign.
Party member Craig Sinclair said voters were starting to see the value of NZ First, and he referred to the feebate scheme that the party had blocked last term but the Labour Government announced last weekend.
"[Peters] is younger than Joe Biden and sharper than Joe Biden."
He added that Labour got all the credit for the Government's achievements last term, while Jacinda Ardern's daily Covid updates drowned out all the other parties.
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