Winston Peters’ stories around the Owen Glenn donation to his legal fund are dangerously convoluted and have stretched everyone’s credulity but without real evidence either way it has been impossible to fairly condemn him. Glenn’s letter yesterday provided strong evidence and left Peters ‘hanging by a thread’, as every hack in the country wrote. Now, Helen Clark has effectively chosen to cut that thread.
Clark has chosen to drop Peters in it by telling reporters that Glenn informed her of his donation to the legal fund in February and she asked Peters about it (he denied it) days before Peters held the up the famous ‘no’ sign. Logically, it doesn’t change anything – if Glenn’s account is true, Peters knew without talking to Clark that Glenn had made a donation; if Peters’ account is true, then he wouldn’t have known Glenn made the donation to the trust fund because his lawyer refused to give him any information on it. But it does mean that Peters was at least on notice that a donation may have been made and, given that, he shouldn’t have flatly denied a donation had been made. However, it also shifts the weight of evidence to a conclusion that Peters has been misleading us.
Why has Clark waited until now to release this info? The same reason National waited until now to (kind of maybe) rule out working with Peters (unless he is cleared of wrongdoing). Both major parties have been unwilling to finally cut any chance of working with Peters after the election for fear he would return to Parliament as Kingmaker and go with the other side. After the Glenn letter, both parties judge that the tipping point has been reached where odds are Peters won’t be returning to Parliament because the public’s trust in him is blown and, so, they can get political gain from distancing themselves from him and undermining him. Of course, that’s a little tougher for Labour to do than National – because Labour wants to pass the ETS and has been relying on NZF coming on board. Sacking Peters will probably mean no NZF support for the ETS (it still could conceivably pass if NZF and the Maori Party abstain).
We must remember that this is still all very confused and Peters does have the right to due process. That process is the Privileges Committee hearing but Clark may choose to stand him down from his ministerial portfolios before that if it won’t stop the passage of the ETS.
No matter whether the Privileges Committee finds enough evidence to condemn Peters or not, it’s likely NZF will go into this election with both major parties stating an aversion to governing with them. On top of the stench around the donations, the inability to play Kingmaker should see NZF’s support bleed away. It looks like Peters and NZF have reached the end of the road. But the question will linger, why did Peters behave the way he has? There was nothing illegal or wrong in the Glenn donation, so why did he deny it so firmly when he should have at least suspected there had been a donation?