Welcome to part two of our series extracts from the scintillating new book Fury and Fury about the 2018 election result viewed through the eyes of esteemed fictional journalist Wolf Michaels who spent several months with National Party. In this extract and fury we join the National Party during their Coalition talks with Winston Peters of New Zealand First.
It’s hot in Wellington. Not temperature wise because it happens to be still be spring and a massive storm has journeyed from the Southern Ocean and without being too scientific, it’s bloody freezing, but it’s also hot. Politically hot.
I’m sitting on a bench outside the National Party caucus room with Gerry Brownlee – a man from Christchurch who has managed, through his handling of the earthquake rebuild, to become an enemy of the city. I think back to last week in the garden city when Brownlee was verbally abused by several passers. When I asked how this torrent of abuse made him feel he said nothing although a long guttural growl rumbled somewhere in the back of his throat. I turn and face the Ilam MP and he has a similar look on his face now as he did that day in Christchurch.
“I’m bloody angry,” he announces. I want to ask why, but I also don’t want to. Asking Brownlee a question is going to lead me down a path I don’t wish to travel. It’s too late. He has decided to answer the question I didn’t want to ask.
“I don’t know why,” he offers, “I’ve been angry ever since I can remember. I’m just bloody angry. Bloody damn angry.”
Little else happens between us apart from Gerry expressing his anger and me not really doing anything else other than writing down the words that he is saying about his anger. In the room next to where we are sitting the National Party leadership team and the New Zealand First leadership team (Winston Peters). These talks are highly confidential incredibly confidential. Nobody knows what’s going on, when it’s going, what’s happening, who’s involved, or what they are doing.
I try to ask Gerry Brownlee about what he thinks is going to happen. He says he doesn’t know and then starts grunting angrily to himself about being angry. We both sit on the bench from 9:30 in the morning until around about 12 o’clock – around the time leadership teams emerge.
It has been a long and fruitless morning and Brownlee suggests we head to Bellamy’s for some lunch. I order a chicken salad sandwich and Brownlee orders the “everything.” When the food arrives I am uncertain whether my lunch buddy will be able to complete eating ahead of the caucus meeting which is due to begin in around 20 minutes. By the time I have finished that thought, however, the interim Foreign Affairs Minister is already asking if I am going to finish my sandwich.
Shortly afterwards we head to the caucus room for an update on the current status of the coalition negotiations. We haven’t been there long when Bill English arrives. He has a few pieces of paper and sits down in a chair at the front. The Prime Minister takes a second to loosen up his tie before realising it is a mistake and tightening it again. English settles in and gives everyone present the low down.
“So far,” he tells everyone, “there have been two days of negotiations with Winston Peters. At present we know nothing. We do not know if he will go with the Labour Party or whether he will he go with the National Party.”
As English clears his throat to begin his next sentence the door opens and in walks Judith Collins. She surveys the gathering before turning to Bill and smiling a smile one would find on a mythical god whose special power is turning people into stone.
“Don’t stop on my account, Bill,” she says in a voice peppered with soothing knives, before she heads down the back of the room to take a seat.
English takes a few minutes to outline Peters’ demands. Cabinet posts for all New Zealand First MPs. He reads out a list. Peters for Foreign Affairs; Ron Mark for Defence; Tracey Martin for Education. The list goes on and on. The longer it goes on the less familiar I am with the names being read out.
I turn to Gerry just in time to witness a pulsating vein on the side of his head explode.
“That’s my job!” he yells, “I’m the Foreign Minister. I’ve got the Koru card. You can’t bloody give that to bloody Peters. It’s mine.”
The former Earthquake Recovery Minister starts shaking and dribbling. English, seemingly aware of this anger management issue, extracts an emergency Toffee Pop from his bag of prime ministerial tricks and flicks it towards Brownlee who hungrily snaps it out of thin air before quickly calming down. This is an obvious National Party tactic as several more of the chocolatey treats end up in or near Brownlee’s mouth.
The meeting quickly draws to a close. There is nothing to vote on and nothing anyone can do but wait for Winston. As the crowd meanders their way out the door, Gerry turns to me to suggest, or rather, demand we head back to Bellamy’s for some afternoon tea.
What a fine idea.