Some times in politics, although not often, things are just what they seem to be. Just ask that nice Colin Craig
It's one of the oldest cliches in politics - that perception is reality. In other words, if enough of us are convinced that what we think we see is real, then it may as well be real. Even if it's not. Voters will vote on that perception and so it's the only thing that really matters.
Such perception is at the heart of the political machine. It's simply daily business for politicians to use dog whistles or spin or outright porkies to convince voters to see them in a certain light. So the job of political journalists and analysts is to chip away at the facade to the truth of what lies beneath.
But what happens if, just maybe, the facade is real? What if the political observers, so used to spin, miss an obvious truth hiding in clear daylight?
What am I talking about? The Conservatives, of course.
It's become accepted wisdom that Colin Craig's political vehicle is a Christian party in disguise. He came into public consciousness calling himself a Christian, opposing smacking and gay marriage and got himself some headlines about an employee complaining about prayer meetings at work. Heck, Larry Baldock was on his party list. So it was pretty clear cut from the start. He played down the religious element of his party and political ambitions, but he would say that, wouldn't he? Nudge, wink. He didn't want to alienate non-religious conservatives and was just dog whistling to the evangelicals out there who had been let down by Christian Heritage, Destiny New Zealand and the like.
So Craig, we all know, is a God-botherer in drag. It's another attempt to bring Moral Majority politics to New Zealand. Heck, he even admires Sarah Palin!
But take away all those associations and assumptions and what evidence do we have for those religious claims? Sod all.
Yes, he has a personal faith wedded to conservative values. But consider this. Craig has been saying for a couple of years now that he doesn't go to church. Once or twice that could have been put down to perception management, but he's said it so long and so loud now that it would be counter-productive if it wasn't true. The pentecostals and mega-church types that he's supposed to be dog whistling to might accept a little fudging, but they will be turned off by such out-and-out denial. It makes no sense to say he's trying to appeal to these people when he's repeatedly shrugging his shoulders at them.
And while you can point to Baldock, it's hard to miss the presence and influence of Christine Rankin as the party's CEO and a council candidate. She's a buddhist.
I've only made initial inquiries, but my understanding is that Craig's not gaining any particular traction in the mega churches nor do the leaders of those churches have any special connection to him or his party; those in the know suggest that the likes of Baldock are more mainstream evangelical than Destiny types.
And Craig went even further on 3rd Degree last night, saying not only that he couldn't remember the last time he worshipped in church, but:
"Right from the beginning of my involvement in politics I've always felt that church and state should be separate. I've never been comfortable with the concept of religious parties, actually, and wouldn't belong to one".
So maybe the Conservatives aren't secret fundamentalists, but rather what they say they are on the packet. Maybe Craig's combination of faith and policies make you think it's amount to the same thing. But here's my problem with that. While so many are obsessing about the faith angle, they're not looking at what he really is.
Some say the Conservatives are the Tea Party in disguise. But I'm not sure that's a very useful comparison; it's not so radical a movement. Guyon Espiner in the 3rd Degree piece last night talked about him as a purveyor of nostalgia politics and that's closer to the mark for me. I've written before that the Conservatives are the National party of the 1970s (the party of Muldoon that Key supported as a young man) and Craig didn't disagree with that when I've said it to him.
So don't go looking for his converts in the mega churches (although his values may win some support from there). It's as likely that he'll get support from rural and small town New Zealanders who are, well, conservatives with concerns about foreigners and debt and asset sales. Or from the Pacific Island churches, where an alliance with David Tua would surely go down a treat. Or from older New Zealanders uncomfortable with modern social politics and who quite like this nice, polite young man.
And if he does win support in those places, think about who he'll be winning votes from: National, sure. But also Labour and mostly New Zealand First. My understanding is that National's comfortable to allow him some growth as he's winning more voters from their competitors than from it. As I mentioned in the thread on an earlier post, National can afford to lose a little to win, when it comes to Craig.
It's Peters who will be most concerned, as Craig unashamedly tracks his supporters and charms them away with his good manners, old fashioned policies and a naivity that seems most un-politician-like. How bizarre that the young ingenue could up-end the old warhorse in Peters. It'll be a fight to the death that could have a huge impact on next year's elecion.
If Craig can do eat Peters' support to the point that New Zealand First misses the five percent threshold, he will change the face of New Zealand politics, end a dominant political career once and for all and earn John Key's gratitude. Odds on he'd also earn National a third term.