The most significant NZ political event of 2017 could well be the collapse of the Labour Party and the emergence of the Greens as New Zealand’s leading party of the centre-left.
A key factor driving the New Zealand electorate’s flight to the right will be the profound and ideologically toxic influence of Donald Trump’s presidency. Nobel economics laureate, Paul Krugman, predicts a global trade war, and the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine is filled with disquieting articles foreshadowing an ominous deterioration in the relationship between the USA and China.
If either of these predictions come to pass, then the consequences for the New Zealand economy will be extremely serious.
If push comes to shove our government will come under enormous pressure from both Washington and Canberra to declare for the “auld alliance”. The Foreign Minister may conclude that he has no choice but to recommend to Prime Minister Bill English that we let go of China’s hand – with all that portends for New Zealand’s primary industries.
The provinces will suffer most if the NZ-China economic connection falters and the voters most affected: farmers and the agricultural servicing sector; will be looking for someone to blame. Inevitably, the government will be criticised, but by far the largest share of the blame will be directed towards the government of the Chinese people. This rapidly-developing, racially-charged, crisis will be Winston Peters’ opportunity.
In a neat division of political labour, NZ First will lead the attack on China while, publicly, National condemns (but not too loudly) Peters’ racially-charged rhetoric. Meanwhile, privately, the conservative supporters of both parties will be encouraged to recognise the inherent electoral synergies of the unfolding crisis. As the countdown to the election shortens, the prospect of a National-NZ First coalition government will begin to acquire the aura of inevitability.