After the 2008 defeat, party members and the leader met in Hamilton and decided to carry on. One member said later that it was a “cathartic” experience with firm and frank views “strongly” expressed.
Over the next two and a half years Peters stumped the country packing community halls while the party rebuilt. Although written off by the mainstream media and political commentators, Peters and his advisers were encouraged by public support at ground level.
With a marginal campaign budget, Peters campaigned the hard way on the road. After being told by TVNZ he would not take part in the leaders’ debate, rising polls forced TVNZ to rescind the decision. Peters won the debate easily and continued rising in the polls.
Three weeks from the election, party strategists decided to publicly reject media suggestions that New Zealand First would form a coalition with Labour and the Greens. Peters told a public meeting in Kelston that New Zealand First would go into Opposition and hold the government to account.
Opinion polls rose further, forcing National leader John Key and Act’s John Banks to hold their infamous “teacup” meeting, which was recorded. Peters exploited this situation and gained further publicity. New Zealand First came back into parliament with 6.5 per cent of the vote and eight list MPs.
Peters’ presence in the House has sparked new life in the Opposition. New Zealand First has pressured the government on several fronts including the sale of state assets, Whanau Ora, the plight of exporters and political bungling. The party has also tried to gain power and health concessions for the elderly.