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John MacDonald: Don't dismiss Helen Clark's bombshell

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 10 Nov 2023, 1:34pm
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark. Photo / Getty | File
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark. Photo / Getty | File

John MacDonald: Don't dismiss Helen Clark's bombshell

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 10 Nov 2023, 1:34pm

Helen Clark has dropped a bombshell. Saying that she reckons if Winston Peters doesn’t like what he’s being offered in a coalition deal with National and ACT, he’ll turn around and try and stitch something up with Labour.

Now I know the first thing you might say to that, is ‘what about Chris Hipkins saying he would never work with Winston again’?

Well, a couple of things on that. If Labour really wanted to get back into government and a deal with NZ First was the meal ticket, one of two things could happen.

Hipkins could fall on his sword and step aside. Or they could dump him.

The other thing is, let’s remember what Chris Hipkins himself has been saying this week since being reaffirmed as leader. Everything is back on the table.

So far that’s all been about taxation - in particular, the idea of a wealth tax and a capital gains tax. So if everything’s back on the table, why wouldn’t a coalition arrangement with NZ First be on the table as well?

To pull it off, the Greens and Te Pati Māori would also have to be onside. Te Pāti Māori has six seats. The Green Party has 15. Labour has 34. And NZ First has eight seats. Add them all up and you get 63 seats. A majority.

National has 48 seats. ACT has 11 seats. And with NZ First’s eight seats, you get 67. A slightly larger majority. But what Helen Clark is saying, is that National and ACT shouldn’t be taking things for granted and think that they are NZ First’s only options.

As she points out, in 1996 Winston banged on about not letting National become government again. And then, what did he do after keeping us all waiting for weeks and weeks and weeks? He put National into government again.

The way he explained it, though, was that a National/NZ First coalition government was different than a National government. Weasel words, yes. But at least he satisfied himself that he hadn't gone back on his promise to get rid of the National government.

This time around, he said NZ First “will not return Labour to power”. In a way, exactly the same thing. In 1996, he said he wouldn’t allow a National government to return and claimed that a National/NZ First government was different. He could say exactly the same thing if he went with Labour.

A Labour/NZ First/Greens/Te Pati Māori government would not be returning Labour to power. In his mind, anyway.

Another thing you might be thinking about this is the likelihood of the Greens and Te Pati Māori having any interest in being in government with NZ First.

On paper, both those parties would run a mile. But do you think it’s possible, a few weeks down the track since the election, that the Greens and Te Pati Maori are looking at the record number of MPs they’ve ended up with and thinking that they’re all a bit wasted in opposition?

I’d be thinking that if I was them.

And as for Labour itself. I know it's saying that it’s going to use the next three years to “take stock” and “digest” the election result, and rebuild for the 2026 election. But still hold the government to account blah, blah blah.

But do you really think that, if it had a choice, Labour would go with three years of digesting and taking stock? Or do you think it would go with another three years in government?

Just like if I was the Greens or Te Pati Maori, if I was Labour, I’d take government over opposition any day. Wouldn’t you?

So I’m not going to write Helen Clark’s comments off. And, as Jim Bolger is saying today too - which I see as a bit of a warning for National and ACT - he’s saying that the current negotiations could go on for a couple of months like they did back in 1996.

He’s says Winston Peters is a very experienced and smart political leader. Anybody who goes into with Peters thinking he’s a pushover is stupid. That’s what former National leader Jim Bolger is saying.

But on Helen Clark's comments. I think she’s on the money. I agree with her when she says anything is possible. A lot of dead rats would have to be swallowed by Labour, the Greens and Te Pati Maori. But politicians are very good at that.

And think about this. If Helen Clark - former Labour Prime Minister and endorser of Labour’s election campaign this year - if she’s saying that a Labour-led government involving NZ First is a possibility, then I’m listening.

She is still very much connected to the party. And if she was convinced that there is absolutely no way Labour would do a flip-flop and get a deal together with NZ First, then she would be saying so today. But she’s not.

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