Dene Mackenzie notes the political danger in delay:
Prime Minister Helen Clark faces a dilemma: sack New Zealand First leader Winston Peters as Minister of Foreign Affairs or face a growing perception she is prepared to hold on to power at any cost.
National Party leader John Key raised the stakes yesterday saying Mr Peters would be unacceptable as a minister in a government led by him unless Mr Peters could provide a credible explanation of the “Owen Glenn saga”.
Imminent opinion polls are expected to show that Miss Clark’s continued support for Mr Peters has hurt Labour and is damaging her chances at the forthcoming election.
The longer Miss Clark ties herself to the fortunes of Mr Peters, the more she could be handing the election to National.
It’s catch 22. She stood down several Labour ministers while much less damaging allegations swirled round them. Now she’s putting politics before principle because she needs his votes now but that lengthens the odds on Labour’s winning the election.
And yet, if she does sack him, the potential damage to his standing could seal Mr Peters’ political future and scupper any chances he has of making it back into Parliament.
In that case, Labour is unlikely to be able to count on NZ First as a coalition partner after the election and would be less likely to be able to form a fourth-term government.
Peters would do anything for power, if he’s still in parliament he’d do a deal if it was sweetened with sufficient baubles. But New Zealand First is a construct of its leader, once he goes the party goes.
Labour did everything it could to protect Mr Peters in Parliament yesterday, delaying question time through Police Minister Annette King reading a ministerial statement on the police use of tasers.
National was outraged and continually questioned Speaker Margaret Wilson on her various rulings.
When Mr Key finally got to ask Miss Clark whether she continued to retain confidence in Mr Peters, the Prime Minister replied she did and deflected questions on the issue of whether Mr Peters personally solicited a $100,000 donation from expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn.
Mr Peters repaid Miss Clark by later in the day supporting the Government’s emissions trading scheme, ensuring it will be passed before the election.
Miss Clark has made no secret that she regards the scheme as a cornerstone election policy for Labour.
And because of that it is no secret her support for Peters is the cost of getting his votes on the ETS.
She’s tied Labour to New Zealand First and John Key tightened the knot yesterday making it quite clear a vote for New Zealand First is a vote for a Labour led government.
There’s a danger in that for National because it cuts off another potential coalition partner, but it’s a principled stand and voters might appreciate that.