Con­ser­va­tives play canny game

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Long term, prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant fea­ture of this elec­tion has been Labour’s fall to mid-20s per­cent­age lev­els of support, and the rise in support for New Zealand First, and the Con­ser­va­tives.

What­ever else may be said about Colin Craig and the party he has bankrolled so hand­somely, he has played an as­tute po­lit­i­cal hand this year – es­pe­cially for a self-pro­fessed am­a­teur.

It can’t be taken for granted that Craig and his team will get across the 5 per cent MMP thresh­old on Satur­day night.

Pre­vi­ously, the Christian Coali­tion had stalled at 4.33 per cent of the vote in 1996, and missed out.

How­ever, the cur­rent mo­men­tum in the polls for the Con­ser­va­tives does seem likely to carry Craig, Chris­tine Rankin, Garth McVicar etc into Par­lia­ment – in­clud­ing even per­haps Ed­ward Saafi, the Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date who re­port­edly thinks our child vi­o­lence pro­tec­tion laws are con­tribut­ing to youth sui­cide.

Ev­i­dently, Craig has long-term strate­gic goals on his mind.

Last week, he was con­tin­u­ing to cite bind­ing cit­i­zens ini­ti­ated ref­er­en­dums as his top pri­or­ity, de­spite know­ing that Na­tional would almost cer­tainly re­ject the idea out­right.

For good mea­sure, Craig told re­porters he would need to learn the ropes in Par­lia­ment be­fore as­pir­ing to min­is­te­rial sta­tus.

In sum, Craig seemed to be pre­par­ing the Con­ser­va­tives for a spell on the cross benches – from which he would lend support to Na­tional only on mat­ters of con­fi­dence and sup­ply – rather than try­ing to join Na­tional in a for­mal coali­tion.

As a strat­egy for 2017, this would make a lot of sense.

By stress­ing a pol­icy that Na­tional would be cer­tain to re­ject, Craig and his team could de­part for the cross benches with their in­tegrity in­tact, and watch from afar as New Zealand First suf­fers the usual fate of ju­nior coali­tion part­ners tarred with the brush of col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Time, after all, is on the side of the Con­ser­va­tives. This could well be the last roundup for Win­ston Peters.

More­over, if and when New Zealand First en­ters into a for­mal coali­tion ar­range­ment with a vic­to­ri­ous Na­tional Party, that would leave the Con­ser­va­tives as be­ing the only so­cially con­ser­va­tive party that is seem­ingly not in­ter­ested in the baubles of of­fice.

As men­tioned, the prospect of two so­cial con­ser­va­tives in the next Par­lia­ment un­der­lines the iden­tity cri­sis now fac­ing Labour.

Older, so­cially con­ser­va­tive vot­ers who were once a bedrock of Labour support have de­parted – per­haps for­ever – from the sort of party that has cho­sen David Cun­liffe to lead it. (Much of the lib­eral Labour left de­parted for the Greens some time ago.)

If Labour loses badly on elec­tion day, business as usual would be a recipe for its per­ma­nent marginal­i­sa­tion.

Yet if bind­ing ref­er­en­dums are mainly a tac­ti­cal gam­bit, what are the Con­ser­va­tives re­ally in­ter­ested in?

Tax cuts for one thing, of multi­bil­lion dol­lar proportions.

At a more prac­ti­cal level, Craig last week men­tioned his in­ter­est in help­ing the next cen­tre-right gov­ern­ment to pro­mote user­friendly poli­cies for small business. That’s quite sig­nif­i­cant.

As the coun­try gets to know Colin Craig in Par­lia­ment, they could well find out that he is not the new Win­ston Peters, but more like a so­cially con­ser­va­tive ver­sion of Peter Dunne.

Mem­o­rably, Dunne de­scribed Craig last week as an ‘‘un­tried fruit loop’’. Some in­ter­est­ing times (and turf wars) lie ahead.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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