Making sense of the Winston (six week) era

Late on Thursday night Winston Peters will turn back into a minor party pumpkin... or, um, Foreign Minister. So how do we judge his rein as PM? The Winston weeks... the Peters period...How do we make sense of this political epoch?

Tomorrow is the last day of Winston Peters' six week reign as acting Prime Minister. An end of an era, you might say. A pivotal moment in space and time.

Peters handing back the reins to Jacinda Ardern closes the chapter on what has been a vital inflexion point for New Zealand's history. Because, while he isn't the first person to serve as acting Prime Minister, will be nowhere near the longest serving acting Prime Minister, is not the first minor party MP to serve as acting Prime Minister, is just under 110 years short of being the first person of Māori descent to serve as acting prime minister and (barring the outbreak of a world war that he plays some important role in during the next day) will not be the most consequential acting Prime Minister, it is fair to say the past month and a bit have been historic. 

How so? Well, in wielding the awesome constitutional authority of the office of acting prime minister, he didn't actually destroy the country. "Well, I've proved some of the cynics wrong," he told Newshub Nation, because "[t]he sky didn't fall in."

When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow night and Peters turns back into a minor party pumpkin or whatever, he will take some satisfaction from having "ensured that no crisis happened that we didn't and weren't able to handle". He saved us.

It hasn't all been gentle sailing, of course. Because, if we credit the acting Prime Minister for providing us with all the normalcy we have enjoyed through these fateful weeks, we logically must lay at his feet the first nurses' strike in 30 years. Business confidence slumped to lows not seen since the Global Financial Crisis. Relations with Australia and China also worsened, pointing to a failure on the part of the acting prime minister to get the full measure of his Foreign Affairs Minister. Finally, he unnecessarily grabbed the third rail by sallying forth into the Air New Zealand vegetarian burger argument, coming down against the national carrier.

Nevertheless, he handled it all.

Good on him, I say. Housesitting is much harder than it looks. You have to ensure the cats are fed and come back into the house at night. If you don't water the plants they might die. If you accidentally burn the house down, well, you will look like a right idiot.

And at least housesitters get the place to themselves for a few weeks. They can usually even have a party or two. While Peters has shouldered the burden of running the country, the (actual) Prime Minister hovered over his shoulders, reading cabinet papers and ready to step in if it all got a bit overwhelming.

Anyway, you can expect to see a fair few evaluations of Peters' big date with destiny throughout today and tomorrow. And I am confident that even Wellington-based commentators, so well-known for their careful attention to proper perspective, will wisely accord him the credit he deserves.

And - just think - perhaps you will one day be able to tell your own grandchildren, "I was there."