Tim McCready

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters may not be universally admired by the C-suite, but chief executives rate him a shrewd politician.

“Winston is undoubtedly in my view a supreme politician!” said Joanna Perry, professional director and chairwoman of the IFRS Advisory Board. A legal firm boss added, “Peters plays the political game very astutely. But he is the ultimate opportunist on the political front.”

Peters, 72, has previously held the roles of Deputy Prime Minister in Jim Bolger’s National Government (sacked by Jenny Shipley) and Foreign Minister in Helen Clark’s Labour Government.

NZ First currently has 12 MPs, and following the election expects to have former Labour MP Shane Jones join the ranks, listed comfortably at eighth on the list.

NZ First has released some favourable policies for business – including cutting corporate tax rates to 25 per cent – but his negative stance on the TPP, foreign investment and immigration, along with his growing shopping list of bottom lines, has damaged his reputation with business leaders.

Chief executive respondents to the Herald’s CEO Survey rated Peters’ political performance as leader at 2.76/5 on a scale where 1= not impressive and 5= very impressive. But it is the NZ First leader’s ability to exert leverage under the MMP political system which makes him a key player at the September 23 election.

It is possible Peters will not be the sole potential kingmaker or queenmaker when coalition negotiations begin after the votes come in. Or at least not with the same levels of bargaining power the NZ First leader might have had eight weeks ago, before Labour began its poll climb.

Before Labour’s leadership change, NZ First was considered the only path to power for either National or Labour. But in light of the “Ardern Effect”, there is some evidence that disillusionment with the status quo is spilling over to Labour, with recent polls showing they now have more than one path to form a government.

CEO respondents identified the young vote – and young females in particular – as those who might be drawn to vote for Labour this time, favouring a removal of a stale Government in favour of a fresh one.

When asked who NZ First should form a coalition with, most CEOs (69 per cent) opted for National. Just 4 per cent said Labour. What is notable is that a considerable number said the decision should be up to the voter – and not a case of the tail wagging the dog.

“The party who secures the largest portion of the vote from the electorate as that is the party most New Zealanders want to see form government,” said Beca’s Greg Lowe. Others thought NZ First should just support the largest party on confidence and supply rather than trying to “blackmail policy concessions that result in much being watered down”.

There was growing support for both major parties to reject NZ First as a coalition partner and instead form a grand coalition – between Labour and National – as has been seen in Germany, or for both parties to simply go back to the polls instead of making a deal with Peters. “Maybe National and Labour should form a grand coalition to get some long-term things right,” recommended an automotive CEO.

Both National and Labour have ruled out giving the prime ministership to Peters. Unsurprisingly, 94 per cent of chief executives were also strongly opposed to the major parties conceding the prime ministership on an interim basis to achieve power.

Most thought the party with the largest share of the vote should be in control, and that minor parties should not have this level of influence.

Some of the responses were on the nose: “Heck no,” “FFS”, and “Winston doesn’t have the work ethic to be Prime Minister even for a couple of weeks.”

In this year’s Mood of the Boardroom, a majority of chief executives expected the disillusionment with traditional politicians would spill over and affect the results of the upcoming election.

Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn. Donald Trump.

Recent outcomes of elections and referendums around the globe have been anything but predictable and can be largely attributed to disillusionment and rejection of immigration, globalisation, and a loss of national identities.

But many also believe disillusionment with the status quo can be explained by the curse that comes with ruling for three terms:

“We are already seeing it – sensationalism and strong communicators are winning votes,” adds a media industry CEO.

“There will be some fatigue with another National government term but not the disillusionment with political institutions that we have seen in the US and Britain,” reckoned Rob Cameron, founder of Cameron Partners.

“We are in a very different position to the US and UK,” says a professional director. “Our economy is strong and we have choices as long as we make them wisely.”

Others think the disillusionment runs deeper. An executive in the wine industry: “People are sick of smug, self-indulgent, middle-aged white men. At least I am.”

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *