New Zealand’s leading data visionaries Hayden Donnell and Toby Morris read the nation’s thermometer as it undergoes the six-week Jacinderregnum
Alert level: Oh no
Acting prime minister Winston Peters went into his Radio New Zealand interview this morning sounding worn out. He was already staring into the abyss. Then the abyss started asking questions. It sounded like his nemesis, Guyon Espiner. The man who’d just won a radio award for haranguing him like a drug-crazed hippie at a TPPA rally.
Hadn’t this maddened fool already sucked up enough of Peters’ precious energy? Now he was prattling again, this time about Trump. The US President had stood on a stage next to Vladimir Putin and all-but announced he was a Russian puppet. Espiner kept asking Peters to admit the obvious: that Russia had meddled in the US election, and Trump was compromised.
But Peters wasn’t going to give in to some puffed-up hack with delusions of Woodward and Bernstein. Espiner asked whether Peters stood by his stance from March, where he said he had no firm stance on whether Russia meddled in the election. “The full-on assertion that’s being made now in the media…” he began.
That was too much for Espiner. “Not the media – we’ve had indictments Mr Peters… you’re welcome to continue on but I just wanted to make that point: they’ve made indictments in this area. You’ve had the director of national intelligence saying he’s in no doubt. So you can’t say it’s just the media saying this.”
Peters eyes narrowed. His brow furrowed. If war was what Espiner wanted, then war is what he would get. “Why don’t you organise your mind when you ask questions Guyon? You asked a question set back in March and I went to answer it and I only got a few words out of my mouth and you started disputing that with a long diatribe about something not connected.”
Espiner sighed the sigh of a man who’d been suffering for 1000 years on a cold, lonely mountaintop, and repeated the question. He could see the future unfurling before him like a cyclone blowing in off the Tasman Sea. Peters burbled something incoherent about Helsinki and the media before concluding emphatically, “next question,” implying he’d answered the first question.
The conversation moved on but the war wasn’t over. Nigel Farage sparked its final confrontation. He’d described Peters as New Zealand’s version of Trump. Espiner wanted Peters to acknowledge that he’d heard the description, that the event actually took place, that some version of shared reality exists. He desperately tried to get Peters to answer the question, pleading like a prisoner on his way to the gallows. If he was looking for mercy, he’d dialled the wrong number. “Now you’re asking for the fourth time,” Peters said. “Please don’t ask the taxpayers money this way… I can handle you with the greatest of ease. But the taxpayers of this country pay your salary and they deserve better than what you’re serving up.”
“Well they pay yours too mate…” Espiner said, though something about it sounded disingenous. “Well they probably pay you more than me, but no-one ever tells me about your salary do they?” Peters said, laughing balefully.
“That’s fake news,” Espiner said.
What did this mean for us? New Zealand’s acting prime minister was beginning his day frustrated; aghast again at the people’s continuing insistence on scrutinising his benevolent actions. The precious and bountiful reserves of patience he needs to deal with imbeciles were already used up. He was strung out, and walking into a world facing escalating turmoil and upheaval, where the old order seemed to be crumbling, and a new axis of corrupt strongmen seemed to be rising up to take its place. Could he be tempted to join them?
We ran this information – along with the wattle of a dismembered kōkako – through our algorithm generator and solemnly resolved to raise the risk level on our Winstomegeddon-o-meter.
Alert level: Caution
Thankfully New Zealand is nuclear-free, because if Winston Peters had access to nukes, the area around Radio New Zealand’s Wellington studio would be a radioactive crater right now. The acting prime minister appeared on Morning Report this morning, where he was interviewed by Susie Ferguson. They were meant to be talking about conflict-of-interest allegations swirling around New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin. Instead the interview was mostly a montage of Peters snapping “let me finish” at any sound other than his own voice. “Let me finish,” he said as Ferguson quoted the cabinet manual at him. “Let me finish,” he responded as Ferguson switched tack and questioned him about Kelvin Davis. “Let me finish,” he yelled at nearby bus.
Peters defended himself by impugning the integrity of others. National. Radio New Zealand. The world. They had dirty minds, clouded by suspicion. “It looks clean if people come to it with a purity of mind rather than a malice of forethought,” he said. Maybe it was a plea for fairness. But it sounded like a vision for a better New Zealand; one where people wouldn’t question the intentions of acting prime minister Winston Peters. Why would no-one shape up? Why would no-one act right? “Look, why don’t you get yourself ready to defend yourself when you’re not so covered with guilt?” he suggested to Ferguson, or perhaps the world at large. You could sense his brain whirring. If these people refused to appreciate his benevolence, maybe he could seize control of the country and make them see.
On the basis of this interview alone, we would move the Winstonmageddon-o-meter™ to warning level. However Peters replaced his usual interview on The AM Show with one on Sky News Australia this morning, despite AM Show host Duncan Garner rescinding Peters’ six-week ban from the studio. Low per-week contact with Duncan Garner is proven to have wide-ranging health benefits, including increased self-control, restraint, and rationality. After cutting apart a kereru and spreading its sweetmeats across our algorithm generator, the Winstonmageddon-o-meter™ has been moved up to Caution level. May it never rise higher.
Alert level: Stay calm
Winston Peters took office as prime minister to cries of “oh shit” and “we’re going to die”. Despite the calming efforts of columnists like Stuff’s Jo Moir, a portion of the nation resolutely soiled itself over the instatement of our new leader. Kiwiblog commenters stacked cans of mackerel in their underground shelters. Stuff commenters kissed their children with trembling hands and filled little jars of hemlock. Spinoff bloggers catalogued his every word, as if looking for some kind of apocalyptic Bible code.
But were those fears well-founded? There was no way of knowing. That is, until now. For the first time ever we can put our nation’s scepticism, anger, and sheer animal terror up to rigorous scientific testing, thanks to a pioneering data journalism tool from The Spinoff: the Winstonmageddonometer.
Our new tool uses science and dark magic to track New Zealand’s position on the Winstospectrum, from Winstoradise to Winstomeggedon. To summarise the meter in simple terms, “happy Winston” means New Zealand is still a functioning, if annoying, democracy. “Dictator Winston” means you should craft a makeshift shelter in the Kaimai Ranges and wait out the next year.
We conducted our first reading last night, and it gave a full and final judgement. It reveals that in his first week in power, he has mostly shrugged off the lure of authoritarianism. The only people to suffer so far under our new regime have been parliamentary journalists, who have had to deal with more admonishments during the weekly prime minister’s briefings, Simon Bridges, who was insulted in Latin, and Duncan Garner, who cancelled Peters’ weekly interview on The AM Show after the acting prime minister showed up late for the second week in a row.
The first two factors are of no real concern. Calling Simon Bridges a “fool” in Latin is obviously funny. A combative relationship with the press is a bad sign, but not out of the ordinary for a politician who once repeatedly held up a sign saying “NO” for an entire press conference.
The third took more careful analysis. At first glance, Peters being kicked off The AM Show seems like a blow to political accountability. However our machine considered the facts and concluded that spending 15 fewer minutes per week with Duncan Garner and Mark Richardson is actually likely to make Peters a more calm, rational prime minister.
After sacrificing a kakapo and spreading its entrails – along with the available news information – across our new data tool, our algorithm rated New Zealand as “mostly fine”.
Please check in for further updates as they come to hand.
The full range, for reference: