Is Winston Peters’ successor waiting in the wings?

Insight

A successor may come from an unlikely corner writes SenateSHJ Partner Marg Joiner

It’s hard to imagine New Zealand politics without the Rt Hon Winston Peters. 

That wasn’t the case in 1993 when the maverick MP was cutting against the grain. People were writing him and his party off at its launch. On the surface it seemed no one liked him. But that ignored the hard graft he was doing on the ground, his ability to read the electorate and his instinctive knack for timing. 

Twenty six years on, people are asking who will succeed Mr Peters? It’s a perennial question pondered by media around the party’s annual convention. The leader and party faithful prefer to keep the conversation focussed on the present. The party may have a plan, but to talk about it would take away from its strongest asset.

But that’s by the by because a successor to the New Zealand First leadership and a successor to Mr Peters’ place in New Zealand politics isn’t the same thing.

Strangely, the top contender for the latter role is probably ACT leader David Seymour – a lone MP who’s comfortable in his own skin and cool under fire.

As sponsor of the controversial End of Life Choice Bill, Mr Seymour has demonstrated his political chops and ability to work across the political spectrum.

Like Mr Peters, he’s a stickler for the rules of democracy, knows the numbers, and bases his arguments on facts and figures. He understands the importance of groundwork and the power of taking a lead on controversial issues.

Winston Peters has contained populism to a single party in New Zealand and dominated the centre ground for the past few decades. History shows our party system can only sustain one such personality. Mr Seymour’s successful work on euthanasia shows he could play a similar role to Mr Peters’ in our political landscape. 

It might seem hard to see this today, but those referring to Mr Seymour and his party as “that other one that doesn’t count” might be left eating their words in years to come.