In which universe will Winston Peters become PM?

In a classic piece of misdirection, we're being urged to look away from the recent Labour-Greens MOU and towards a future with Winston Peters as PM. I did, and there really isn't much there.

In an effort to make sense of the fact that their theories don't really make sense of the Universe, some theoretical physicists posit that we inhabit but one of an infinite number of multiverses, in which anything that could possibly happen does happen. It's a theory that, if nothing else, has been a boon for good (and not so good) science fiction/fantasy stories. 

But if the theory is true (whatever that might mean, given the problems with testing it), it means that Winston Peters is Prime Minister of New Zealand in some unknowable number of future universes. Just as, in some unknowable number of future universes, both Peter Dunne and David Seymour are each Prime Ministers of New Zealand. As, indeed, are you and I.

The important question is, will our particular universe be one of these possible future ones? Well, there's been a recent small flurry of excitable speculation on the interwebz that yes, by golly, maybe it will be! Sparked by a Tracy Watkins "imagine if!" speculator in the weekend's Dom Post, Toby Manhire drew up a list of possible alternative roles that Peters might fill. I chipped in with a po-faced, leaden discussion of why I thought it could never happen. Matthew Hooton told me I was wrong in its comments, while David Farrar "fomented happy mischief" with his own post - to which Anthony Robbins responded in kind.

Phew! So much excitement for something that, were it to happen (which it almost certainly won't), would not occur for another 18 months or so. But seeing as the blood is in the water, I'll circle back for another bite at the whale carcass.

David Farrar and Matthew Hooton are the only ones who seem to at least pretend to think there's a real possibility of Peters becoming PM in some Labour/NZ First/Greens amalgam (as opposed to it being something politically-themed other than Auckland housing and/or the problem of homelessness that it is exacerbating to write about). So for convenience's sake I'll refer to their general theory as the "Farten Hypothesis" - and yes, I really will be that juvenile.

In its pure form, the Farten Hypothesis goes something like this:

(1) The 2017 election delivers a result with National still in the mid-40s, Labour in the mid-low 20s, NZ First in the teens and beating the Greens back into fourth place (but still providing a potential Labour-NZ First-Greens majority); and,

(2) Winston Peters is ahead of Andrew Little in the preferred PM stakes; and,

(3) Winston Peters demands that the price for NZ First's support is that he be made Prime Minister; and,

(4) National is so resolute in its principles that it says "no" to the demand; and,

(5) Labour is so desperate for a share of governmental power that it says "yes"; and,

(6) The Greens leadership agrees to positively support the idea (in terms of voting confidence and supply for the ruling amalgam, which it may or may not be a part of); and,

(7) The Greens membership then agrees to ratify the leadership's decision (as party rules require).

That's a awful lot of "ands" that have to all fall into place for the Farten Hypothesis to be actualised - so if Peters was to become the PM in a Labour/NZ First/Greens amalgam, the Anna Karenina principle would have to apply with full force. It's worth noting, however, that for Peters to become PM in a National/NZ First amalgam, you need three fewer conditions to apply. All you need simply imagine is that a party able to swallow in the interests of power interest free student loans, working for families, no nuclear ship visits and the continued existence of the Maori seats accepts that the price of it continuing to govern is to allow one of their ex-MPs to take a figurehead role in government for period of time, before John Key's successor figure takes over.

So is the easiest route to a future Peters PM-ship really through a Labour-NZ First-Greens arrangement?

Furthermore, in his comments on my earlier piece, Matthew Hooton added some extra epicycles to the Farten Hypothesis' basic deferent. In order to explain how a small party leader actually could function as Prime Minister in a cabinet dominated by members of (at least one) other party, Hooton postulated that Peters wouldn't be what we think of as a Prime Minister. Rather, he would serve as "Prime Minister" in name only. He'd accept all the trappings of the role, but take no interest in "his" Government's policies, nor would he seek to actually get his own way in collective decisions. Churchill from 1951-55 was (apparently seriously) the posited model.

Which is, frankly, getting into the outer realms of speculative fiction.

Try imagining how question time in the House, or an appearance on Morning Report, or commentary by Paddy Gower for Newshub would go with this arrangement in place. Sure, Peters was able and willing to function as a figurehead "Treasurer" (whatever that was) and Foreign Minister in the past. But those are offices where you can phone it in and it just doesn't matter. Doing so as Prime Minister? A mere figurehead leader of government from a party whose policies routinely are overridden by its governing allies? In today's media environment? Really?

So however tempting the baubles of office might be for Labour and the Greens post 2017, they must recognise that a Peters premiership under such conditions would be a near-certain guarantee of one term rule (at most), with the threat of long-term damage to their brands so great that it outweighs any immediate gains. That sounds to me more like the Universe I think I live in than any alternate one. 

One last point before ending. How coincidental is it that the twin proponents of the Farten Hypothesis are a frequent media commentator "from the right" and a person whose income derives not insubstantially from the National Party's taxpayer funded parliamentary allowances? Why might such individuals be wanting public discussion to link the idea of a Labour-Green replacement government with Winston Peters as PM? In short, cui bono

Which is why I don't think I'll talk about this subject any more, and you shouldn't do so either.