A milestone moment in the coalition talks, inspected to within an inch of its life.
This morning the three men that lead the parties expected to constitute the next government met at last. A month and a day after the election, they convened in a generic meeting room at the Pullman Hotel, exchanged pleasantries (presumably) and had a photograph taken.
In the absence of any other information, let’s take a look – a deep, desperate and deranged look, even – at that photograph, and what it can tell us about the state of talks and the principal characters: from left to right, Winston Peters, Christopher Luxon and David Seymour.
1. An easy grin with a sprinkle of mischief in the eyes, as if to say, I made you fly to Wellington yesterday and then I made you fly back while I went for a lovely haircut.
2. A delighted grin with a sprinkle of relief in the eyes, as if to say, here I am, operationalising strong and stable deliverables with stakeholders in the governing space.
3. An uneasy expression with a sprinkle of fucked-off-ness, as if to say, you made us fly to Wellington yesterday and then you made us fly back while you went for a lovely haircut.
4. Not, as it might appear at first glance, Winston Peters’ new-look ponytail, but somebody’s bag.
5. Peters is sporting a classic two point fold pocket square. Sometimes called a “two peak”, this is a clear signal that he regards the talks as principally involving two mighty maunga and also David Seymour.
6. A silver fern badge. Classic. Should we make that the flag?
7. David Seymour has worn this pin uninterrupted for at least a year, such that concerns have been raised it may be plunged permanently into his breast. The matching yellow tie is remarkable as much for what it isn’t. But for the slim stripes, Seymour eschews the party’s newly embraced magenta colourway, a decision that may be prompted by the disastrous performance of Germany’s Free Democratic Party, from whom the magenta idea was stolen, in last month’s Bavarian state election.
8. Just a man who knows what to do with his hands. Cufflinks sublime. No notes.
9. The prime-minister-to-be is resting his hands prime ministerially on what appears to be some sort of tablet device, like a pilot at his aircraft flight controls. Massive Rich Man Watch.
10. The first time this webbing of hands has ever been used. Awkward? Innovative? Why not both.
11. The glasses are bottom up, unused, propped on their coasters, suggesting that in the cause of putting together a strong and stable government for the people of New Zealand there was no time for niceties such as hydration. Either that or the whole thing was cursory and emblematic and just for the photo.
12. A mysterious ring suggests a fourth person present, but who? The governor general? Act champion Nelson Mandela? The unnamed photographer (who could also, in fairness, be the governor general or Nelson Mandela)? Or is the Pullman about to get a bad review from @WinstonMayP1945 on Tripadvisor?
A note on distribution
As observed by political reporter and social media expert guru Ben McKay, Peters was the first to post the image on Twitter at 9.30am, while Team Luxon faffed around for six minutes deciding on a caption, meaning the multi-rodeo veteran smashed it for engagement. As of 10.15am, Peters had more than 20,000 views on Twitter with Luxon languishing on around 7,500.
David Seymour didn’t bother with Twitter, or X or whatever, at all. He did, however, as you’d expect of a millennial, bung it on the Instagram grid, with the caption: “A government is forming. Act is here to ensure it is a government of real change.”
On both platforms, Luxon went with the words: “Good meeting. There’s still work to do – but making serious progress towards forming a government to deliver for Kiwis.”
Peters, for his part, posted the image with no words at all. That achieved three things. It allowed him to win the engagement race, as above. It cast more of that enigmatic Winstonian spell. And it avoided any risk of further fuelling conspiracy theorists.