The appeal of the Conservatives
In recent weeks, there has been a mounting drumbeat of support for Colin Craig and his Conservative Party as the National Party’s top coalition preference after next year’s election.
The gamble that National Party leader John Key is taking is that Craig can package the Conservatives as a secular party with staunch Christian values, and not as a religious party seeking secular power to foist its moral agenda on us all.
New Zealand has had some close shaves before, when Graeme Lee and Graham Capill almost led Christian political parties into Parliament.
In 2002, a band of Christian fundamentalists did finally get there under Peter Dunne’s United Future banner.
Dunne ended up as a virtual prisoner in caucus gatherings that often seemed more like prayer meetings. There was no- one happier than Dunne when his colleagues got voted out at the next election.
Of late, Craig has been doing his darndest to dispel any ‘‘churchie’’ impressions that the public may have of the Conservatives.
Craig’s model could well be the telegenic American pastor Joel Osteen, who manages to fill his megachurch every week with a feel- good ‘‘ Christian’’ message that rarely mentions Christ, let alone the sin, hellfire and damnation stuff.
For his part, Key has been at pains to argue that the Conservatives couldn’t do much to advance their moral agenda even if they tried, since, as Key says, issues such as gay marriage are conscience votes in Parliament.
Supposedly, any attempt to relegislate against access to abortion would face the same hurdle.
Key is being disingenuous. The reality is that the current abortion law is quite conservative on paper, but has been interpreted in a liberal fashion in practice.
Meaning: if the Conservatives tried to alter the current situation on abortion, fresh legislation may not be required.
Obviously, Craig first needs to get into Parliament. An electorate deal – such as with the Act Party in Epsom – would propel Craig into Parliament along with Christine Rankin and three or four other MPs, assuming that the Conservatives’ nationwide party vote reaches the levels that Christian political parties have won in the past.
No doubt, the electoral maths explains Key’s refusal to enact any of the reforms to the ‘‘one electorate seat’’ rules for MMP, along the lines advocated by the MMP review, for which National had campaigned for over a decade.
Already, there is talk of Craig inheriting Murray McCully’s East Coast Bays seat ( McCully is rumoured to be shifting to the list).
Otherwise, Craig might be given a clear run at a new seat being created by population growth on the North Shore.
The most interested bystander is, of course, Winston Peters.
If Colin Craig truly is the Chosen One for National, that levels the playing field faced by the New Zealand First leader.
On the centre left, he is the least wanted extra in a Labour/ Greens government. A similar scenario now exists on the centre right, as National readies the bed it intends to share with the Conservatives.
From kingmaker to third wheel? Peters will see about that.
In all likelihood the Conservatives will function as a useful stabilising force in a centre- right coalition that includes Peters, lest once again Peters should walk out later in a huff.