Has Winston Peters always attracted so much attention in the Maori media? I haven’t been following politics long enough to really know, but it seems like he is quoted several times a week by Waatea News. Was this always the case?
Perhaps what is most interesting is that Winston is speaking to Maori issues rather than generic issues or, for lack of a better term, mainstream issues. New Zealand First is not a kaupapa Maori party nor a party overly concerned with issues which are exclusively Maori. However, Winston appears to be making a concerted effort to be heard on issues affecting Maori. For instance the sale of land to Tainui and East Coast iwi's opposition to oil exploration.
I think Winston has identified the Maori vote as soft. The Maori Party is losing support at a rate of knots; Labour, having failed to regain Maori trust following the FSA 2004, is in no position to pick up frustrated voters; For some odd reason the Greens never penetrate the Maori electorate and National remains, for the most part, hostile towards Maori aspirations for tino rangatiratanga.
With the above in mind I see two options. The dark horse – Hone Harawira – and the old war horse - Winston Peters. Hone Harawira will naturally and rightfully scoop most dissatisfied Maori voters; however the centre right vote is open. Winston’s regular punts in the Maori media are an attempt to hit the centre right in my opinion.
One could politely label Winston a Maori basher. But I do not think he is that simple. He is certainly comfortable with his whakapapa, at ease on the Marae by all accounts and sympathetic towards Maori aspirations for full employment, higher education and so. Maori do connect with Winston on a personal level and he understands the Maori psyche. Taking this into account we can assume Winston will, as he tends to do, ignite a personal following. However, the challenge is build an ideological following. This will be difficult considering Winston's opposition to treaty settlements and affirmative action (to name a few). A dig at these issues will evoke a less than positive response from Maori.
I think this election is, for Winston, a chance to get back at Rodney Hide, the Nats and the media. But most of all Winston Peters wants to leave on his own terms. He does not want to bow out at the hands of his enemies. This is his show and dammit he wants to write the script.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention when I posted this that Winston has yet to really register with the mainstream media. I would actually speculate that this is a deliberate approach. Winston appears to be taking a community approach to campaigning. He is holding town hall meetings, giving guest lectures - he has given several here at Vic - and targeting niche media outlets (e.g. the Maori media and local rags). He is not holding extravagant dinners or staging political stunts. He does enough to keep his name in the public consciousness, but 'media whore Winston' is nowhere to be seen.