Con­ser­va­tive vote seeks a home

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

On one level, it has been a sim­ple moral­ity tale: Colin Craig didn’t prac­tise what he preached, and his Con­ser­va­tive Party is now pay­ing the price.

What­ever the ex­act de­tails, Craig seems to have been the main agent of his own down­fall – both in the break­down of his work­ing re­la­tion­ship with his press sec­re­tary, and in agree­ing to the sauna in­ter­view that proved to be the last straw for his col­leagues.

Big po­lit­i­cal par­ties can ride out scan­dals. Dif­fer­ent rules ap­ply to small, val­ues-based par­ties that claim to be bet­ter than the rest.

Craig is now headed for po­lit­i­cal obliv­ion, but the po­lit­i­cal des­ti­na­tion of the 95,598 peo­ple who voted for him last Septem­ber is a fas­ci­nat­ing con­sid­er­a­tion.

For a brief pe­riod, Craig’s party had seemed the ob­vi­ous suc­ces­sor to New Zealand First, which has some ma­jor con­ti­nu­ity prob­lems loom­ing.

By the time Par­lia­ment con­venes af­ter the 2017 elec­tion, Win­ston Peters will be 73 and (surely) will be pre­par­ing to exit the po­lit­i­cal stage.

Last year, 208,300 peo­ple voted for New Zealand First. Taken to­gether, Craig and Peters cur- rently ac­count for nearly 13 per cent of the New Zealand elec­torate.

In five years’ time at most, that size­able bloc will have no nat­u­ral home.

By and large, those are vot­ers who feel an­gry, ig­nored and left be­hind.

Many of them still feel op­pose the eco­nomic poli­cies of the Roger­nomics revo­lu­tion and the as­set sales and pri­vati­sa­tions that fol­lowed in its wake – sins for which they hold Labour and Na­tional equally re­spon­si­ble.

On so­cial pol­icy, they re­gard both main­stream par­ties as be­ing un­ac­cept­ably lib­eral on fam­ily val­ues, crime and immigration.

The size of this con­ser­va­tive ‘ plague on both their houses’ vote is re­mark­ably con­stant. Last year, the com­bined Craig/Peters bloc won 12.63 per cent of the vote; back in 1984, Bob Jones’ New Zealand Party won 12.25 per cent.

Since 1984 how­ever, Peters has been the only con­stant el­e­ment in what has been a very un­sta­ble part of the po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

In 1996, quasi- re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives had al­most found a home in Par­lia­ment when the two feud­ing Chris­tian par­ties buried the hatchet and con­tested that year’s elec­tion as the Chris­tian Coali­tion, un­der the joint lead­er­ship of Graeme Lee and Graham Capill.

Like Craig, they fell just short of the MMP thresh­old.

In 2002, the same con­stituency ral­lied again un­der the ban­ner of Peter Dunne’s United Fu­ture party.

Once elected, the fun­da­men­tal­ists in Dunne’s cau­cus all but hi­jacked the party, un­til the 2005 elec­toral tide swept them out again.

It is a che­quered history that makes Peters’ suc­cess in keep­ing a sta­ble sup­port base look all the more re­mark­able.

In its ten­dency to bicker and sub-di­vide, the con­ser­va­tive right has been a mir­ror im­age of the rad­i­cal left, and New Zealand First will be li­able to the same fac­tion­al­ism once Peters fi­nally de­parts the scene.

As yet, Peters has given no sign of his suc­ces­sion plans – and the longer he re­mains, the less likely it is that Shane Jones would be in­ter­ested in the job.

Over the next five years, will Labour or Na­tional be­come the cho­sen home of this large bloc of chron­i­cally dis­sat­is­fied vot­ers?

How the ma­jor par­ties han­dle the el­i­gi­bil­ity rules for na­tional su­per­an­nu­a­tion may well de­cide that ques­tion.

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