Johansson appointed NZ First chief of staff

Labour, Greens and National have all had changes of Chief of Staff, with one resignation after a long tenure (Wayne Eagleson) and two returning, to Labour (Heather Simpson) and to Greens (Andrew Campbell).

But the biggest change is at NZ First, where their chief of staff, David Broome, was ‘let go’ after assisting them through post-election negotiations.

And Stuff reports Political scientist Jon Johansson made NZ First chief of staff

I guess it’s a job, it could be very good pay, and it’s a change from being a political scientist at Victoria University, but Johansson always seemed more sympathetic to Labour and Greens (he has advised them in the past).

I presume this means he won’t be put on political commentary panels as a supposedly independent expert any more.

Victoria University senior political lecturer Jon Johansson has been appointed chief of staff for NZ First.

The party’s leader Winston Peters announced the appointment on Monday. It comes after the party’s former chief of staff, David Broome, was let go.

Johansson is a regular political commentator on TV and radio and has written several books.

Johansson has this year been teaching second, third and fourth year political papers at Victoria University in Wellington and in 2009 he spent a semester in Washington DC as Fulbright’s Visiting Scholar to Georgetown University.

He’s well known for his political commentary over the last decade both in New Zealand and the United States.

Another political scientist, Bryce Edwards, comments on this in The surprising new power behind Winston Peters

Judging by reactions, everyone has been entirely surprised by Johansson’s shift from being a political scientist to a political player. And certainly, it’s quite unusual for a political scientist to go from teaching politics to practicing it.

But perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that Johansson has shifted into politics. He’s long been very close to many politicians and others around the Beehive. In fact, few university academics would know the corridors of power as well as Johansson – he’s a creature of the Wellington political scene like no other, and should have little trouble shifting from the classroom to the Beehive.

Knowledge of politics and of the Beehive scene doesn’t automatically mean Johansson  will be a good manager of a high profile political office, where he will presumably be required to keep a low profile.

That the Victoria University of Wellington lecturer has chosen to pin his colours to New Zealand First is a surprise for most political followers. After all, in the past he has been more associated with Labour and the Greens, and in the lead-up to the 2014 election he advised these opposition parties in their quest to project themselves as a coherent alternative government.

He also appeared to clearly lean that way when commenting on political talk shows.

In the past, as an academic and political commentator he has endeavoured to be as objective as possible. However, he has previously been forthright when it comes to what might be regarded as “socially conservative” ideologies or policies.

Johansson’s affinity with Winston Peters will make him a good fit with the New Zealand First leader. He will play the role of Peters’ right-hand-man. And because Johansson is a leading expert in political strategy and New Zealand politics, he will be very valuable to New Zealand First.

His knowledge will be useful. How he gets on with Peters and the other NZ First MPs, and how he manages staff and the NZ First office will also be crucial.

Johansson’s appointment is smart because the political scientist is also close to Labour and the Greens. His role as chief of staff is primarily going to involve coalition management, ensuring that the New Zealand First caucus and staff are working together with their counterparts. Because Johansson is already close to the two other parties, he will be well placed to ensure coalition stability and make sure that New Zealand First’s interests are looked after by Labour and the Greens.


Of course, successful political management isn’t simply a matter of knowing all the theory, and Johansson is coming into this important management role with no proven record or experience in the nitty-gritty of how Parliament works.

…landing straight at the top of this empire – albeit beside Winston Peters – might still prove a difficult task. He will need to show that he has the temperament and diplomacy to deal with complicated and difficult coalition and internal-party problems.

As an outsider, Johansson may also not be in the best position to wield his considerable new power in a way that will protect the party. “Guns for hire” often don’t have the knowledge and emotional commitment that enables them to advance the party’s core interests, and inevitably they are readier to compromise on issues in a way that a “true believer” in the party might see as “selling out”.

Also, Johansson’s perceived closeness to Labour could be a problem. Those in New Zealand First might come to regard him as being too ready to give way to Labour and the Greens, or that in his liaisons with the coalition partners he is vulnerable to “Stockholm Syndrome”.

Much may depend on how well Johansson manages to dedicate himself to one party with a very strong leader with long established habits.

Talking of habits, he has shared one with Peters. From Noted on 2012: Kicking the habit

Jon Johansson made a pact with the devil in the New Year. Give up smoking now, he told himself, and you can light up again when you’re 65. “It was utter, complete selfishness. And cowardice. I’m an asthmatic, and I don’t want to get emphysema,” says Johansson, a lecturer in politics at Victoria University.

Johansson, 51, is an expert quitter. Since he started smoking as a 17-year-old, he has quit five times, for periods as long as six years. In 2008, an election year, he gave up the fags for nine months. “It was one night out with Winston Peters that ruined that attempt.”

He has known Peters for a long time – and smokers tend to gather and talk together. Some interesting comments (and a wrong pick) by Johansson leading into the 2005 election – NZ’s Winston Peters in danger of losing sea:

JON JOHANSSON: You just feel that the lights are starting to go out on Winston, and this is being picked up by the public.

…There seems to be far less tolerance by the New Zealand electorate, of him vacillating as to which of Labour or National he prefers. So there’s changed public perception about Winston at the same time as he’s being less effective as a campaign performer.

…One is loathe to write-off Winston, because he’s been down in the… he’s like one of those, you know, Russian dolls that every time you think it’s gone there’s another one appears.

…Well, that he was mercurial, charismatic, but really was never a team player, and as such, in terms of legacy, there’s really not much of a record there at all. It’s always in a sense been more of a style over substance.

That was 12 years ago, and soon after that NZ First got 5.72% and Peters negotiated a governing deal with Labour (and shut the Greens out).

Can Johansson add the substance to Winston’s office? He is unlikely to change the old campaigner’s style.

Leave a comment


  1. Bryce Edwards: ” it’s quite unusual for a political scientist to go from teaching politics to practicing it.” That may be, but it has to be more honest than commenting as a supposed neutral when your own choice of words reveals your inherent bias.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  1st November 2017

      Is it? Austin Mitchell did it decades ago. Labour has had a stream of them I think.

      • This will be very interesting. However, Winston is a confirmed Trumpian xenophobic border closer, he detests the Chinese as do Labour. There’s far, far more to unite Muldoonists and Socialist Statists than otherwise, so why not Johansson. He’s an older bloke and while an affirmed leftist he’s probably not as socially liberal as Team “Let’s do drag the dollar down, put petrol through the roof and ruin the country”

      • Blazer

         /  1st November 2017

        ‘The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise[1] was a popular book by Austin Mitchell, published by Whitcombe and Tombs (Christchurch, 1972), with illustrations by Les Gibbard. It provided a witty, satirical description of life in 1960s New Zealand,[2] and Kiwi culture.

        Described as “a celebrated vision of New Zealand as heaven on earth”,[3] the book was a great success in New Zealand. The phrase “Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise” soon became part of the New Zealand vernacular, with the term “quarter acre pavlova paradise” being included in the Dictionary of New Zealand English.[4] Mitchell revisited New Zealand 30 years after writing his original volume, and motivated by the social changes he observed, he penned a sequel entitled Pavlova Paradise Revisited’-Wiki

  2. PDB

     /  1st November 2017

    I wonder if Johansson advised Winston post-election to shaft most of his supporters by abandoning the big issues he was voted in for (Huge drop in immigration/ referendum on the Maori seats) and instead securing more positions for himself, and his team, at the cabinet table?

  1. Chief of Staff turnover | Your NZ
  2. Johansson appointed NZ First chief of staff — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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