Conservatives want assurances on National's morals before offering confidence & supply

The Conservative Party CEO and candidate says she'd want to get it in writing before trusting National

So I hosted an Epsom candidates' debate Thursday night; great turn out and lots of good questions from people in the audience of over 160. But there was a fascinating statement by Christine Rankin there that deserves a bit of news treatment.

At the end I asked the candidates about Dirty Politics. Apart from one loud groan from the audience, it was interesting to hear the replies. Predictably, the non-government candidates were appalled while Paul Goldsmith from National and David Seymour from ACT played it down.

I asked Goldsmith whether he'd be concerned if a member of his office staff went into the back-end of another party's website and whether he'd discipline that staff member. Goldsmith tried to laugh off the question by saying his two office staff probably wouldn't have the skills to do such a thing, but when I asked again he said if that happened he'd have to "look into it".

Which is more than his political boss John Key has agreed to do with Jason Ede. I'm still appalled that a senior advisor for any politician can go into another party's computer and "have a look around". Now while Key hasn't confirmed it, it's almost certain Ede downloaded the details he found there.

Imagine if Coke went into Pepsi's website. Or if Oxfam took the donor list from World Vision's website. Or if TradeMe took the credit card details from E-Bay's website. It would cause an outrage and heads would roll.

I suspect Key and co are kicking themselves at the rushed strategic decision they were forced to make on the night of Wednesday August 13 or the morning of Thursday August 14. Under pressure, my guess is that they the looked back at previous Hager books, they looked at Key's approval ratings and public trust, they looked at some of the details they knew they could deny and they backed themselves to spin their way out of it. And they may still achieve that goal.

However there has been a hit to #teamkey, possibly at this election and certainly at the next. Key's strategic calculations have long been well judged, but this time he's erred and badly. He certainly should have cut Ede loose then and probably Justice Minister Judith Collins as well. He could still have denied much of the book, but the sacrifices made would have shortened the media coverage and reassured voters that he was upholding the high ministerial standard he's promised.

Anyway, this was to be a post about Christine Rankin and the Conservatives. Rankin stressed in her opening statement that the Conservatives are a party of values and morals. Given that, I asked, where they concerned about National's dirty politics revealed in the book?

Rankin said it wasn't the Conservative's style and that Colin Craig was a moral man who wouldn't indulge in such tactics. But I pushed on whether her party could comfortable offer confidence and supply to a party that it struggled with morally.

She replied - and this is the headline - that the Conservatives would want something in writing reassuring them about National's standards before offering supply and confidence.

Which is hardly a vote for confidence from a potential coalition partner and could make for some interesting negotiations.