When Peters attacks

Winston Peters MPSome pretty vile things have been said in the House over the years. But Winston Peters plunged new lows last week. Thankfully, there seems to be a growing consensus in the commetariat (see, e.g., here, and here) that his attack on Jim Peron was probably unwise. But why was Peters so desperate for publicity that he decided to jump into a swamp where he risked getting himself very dirty? The Press‘ Colin Espiner reckons (sorry, no live link) he’s worried about NZ First’s electoral prospects because:

  1. NZ First is polling at about half of its vote at the last election.
  2. The performance of almost all NZ First’s MPs has been “woeful”.
  3. National has swiped two (race relations, law and order) of NZ First’s “three-fingered salute” from the last election, leaving it just immigration on which to campaign.

Points two and three are right on the money, but the first seems a little tenuous. Of all the third-parties, NZ First and the Greens are the most comfortably positioned going into the final six months before the election. The average of the three polls published in February and the first week of March(compared to their comparable figures in February 2002) has the state of the parties thus:
Labour 44% (-8.3)
National 35.7% (+10.5)
NZ First 7% (+0.8)
Greens 5.7% (-0.1)
Act 2.0% (-3.1)
Maori 2.0% (n/a)
United 1.9% (-1.4)

Third-parties almost always benefit from increased exposure during the election campaign, allowing them to increase their polling numbers. NZ First has the added advantage of having a charismatic campaigner as leader. All in all, it’s in a comfortable position right now. But perhaps, as Espiner alludes to, Peters senses that he’s going to have to do brilliantly come election day for Labour to even consider coalescing with him. As Espiner writes:

Of late Peters has been refashioning NZ First as a sensible, steady coalition partner fo Labour. But Peters is the kind of politician who thrives on controversy; for whom publicity is oxygen. It’s this thirst for scandal that made him an entertaining politician – and a pretty poor Treasurer. His latest attack will remind Labour MPs why they do not want to deal with him unless they have absolutely no choice.