Colin Craig has given up. Kind of. But by conceeding he can only win a seat with a deal, he's put the onus firmly on National and made John Key an offer the PM can hardly afford to refuse

Remember in the 2009 Mt Albert by-election when Melissa Lee said she was hoping to come second? She was roundly mocked and, presumably put straight by an advisor or senior colleague. Before the day was out she had rediscovered a never-say-die spirit, declaring "I am not in this game to lose". It's simple really. Conceeding before the votes are cast isn't the done thing.

Yet that's exactly what Colin Craig did on The Nation today. Check out this exchange with Paddy Gower:

Gower: So you’d be very happy to stand against a National candidate?

Craig: Absolutely. We are making our decisions based on where we are going to maximize party vote. We are not asking the question at all of where are National making a space. Because we’re not the National Party.

So which one of those could you beat? Which one of those three candidates could you beat? And tell the truth.

Well look, I don’t think I could beat any of them unless we run a fantastic local campaign and people get behind us. Last time I –

So just – you don’t think you could beat any of them? Any of those three: Paula Bennett, Mark Mitchell, or Murray McCully.

I think being very realistic, um, it’d be a big call to say that you’re going to beat a sitting National MP, and let’s count Paula Bennett as sitting because half the electorate is one she’s... Or a Labour MP.

Alright. So let’s just back up. You can’t win one of those electorates can you without John Key?

No. No. And that’s why I’m saying our campaign has always been to get the party vote. And we’ve been very clear about that.

It's a striking confession, to admit you're fighting for second place. Craig went on to say that he hasn't asked National for a deal, won't be asking for a deal and has no intention of talking to National. Full stop.

It's a statement that does two things.

First, it puts huge pressure on the Conservatives to reach five percent. But then Craig maintains that'll be a doddle, going on to say:

We’ve only got to get from 87.5-thousand people who wanted to vote for us last time to 120 [thousand]. It’s less than 40-thousand people. It’s not that big a deal. People are making it some great big hurdle. We’re going to get there. We know we’re going to get there.

Few people share his degree of confidence. While acknowledging it's possible, I'd say it's a hugely contested field competing for the conservative vote and with New Zealand First and National showing such strength in the polls, you've got to wonder where the extra three percent (going by Pundit's Poll of Polls) will come from.

Second, it puts pressure on National to deal. By acknowledging he can't beat 'em, he's sending National a clear signal he needs to join 'em. But he's putting it on them to be the one who initiates the deal, so they'll wear the "dirty dealer" badge, not him.

National won't like that, but Craig probably figures there's no need to woo Key and co because they've made it pretty clear they don't like the look of a deal with the Conservatives any which way. They'll only do it is they absolutely have to.

Remember, this comes at the end of the week where the third MP in Craig's electorate pick n' mix told him to stay away from his patch. Last year Paula Bennett warned Craig off the new Upper Harbour seat, where she said she'd be "running a strong campaign for National". Murray McCully stressed in March his "intention to stand again in East Coast Bays". And now Mark Mitchell has said Craig's "dreamin''" if he thinks Mitchell will stand aside in Rodney.

Why is National so relucant? Because Craig is to Key what Harawira is to Cunliffe -- a pain in the middle. Craig is a stick which with Labour can beat him and hurts Key's appeal to women and younger urban voters.

So at face value it looks like three strikes and you're out. Craig is making life hard for Key and Key is signalling to voters he'd only do a deal with Craig if he's desperate. Game over.

And going further, you might have noted that Craig this morning said that he'll choose where to stand based on where he can maximise his party vote. If so, you wouldn't rule out Upper Harbour, as most commentators have done. He'd get a lot of attention standing against Bennett and when the new seat was created in November the NZ Herald reported:

Before knowing of Ms Bennett's intentions, Mr Craig said this morning that the location of the new seat was "awfully good" for his party.

It is close to his home and a growing support base.

"We had really been hoping for a seat in the Upper Harbour or Glenfield area."

Mr Craig said the Upper Harbour area had a high proportion of elderly and immigrants, who tended to have values which aligned with his party.

Except that the line about standing where he'll maximise his party vote is dispensable, just as is his commitment to five percent and not wanting a deal from National. Indeed, all the signalling and posturing is, as Winston might say, bunkum.

Yes, he may get 40,000 voters more than in 2008 and climb over the five percent threshold. Yes, he may not ring John Key to ask for a deal (preferring to speak through the media). But he certainly won't gamble everything on five percent. And, let's be frank, National wouldn't want him to. He certainly will be hoping National offers him a deal and National knows it will almost certainly have to.

If he's on, say, four percent getting close to the election, neither he nor National wants to see those right-wing votes wasted. But even if the Conservatives are on 2.5 percent (and remember they got more votes on election day than polling suggested), National would be taking a big risk just letting those tens of thousands of votes disappear down the plughole. The arrival of Internet-Mana and the near-certainty that votes won't be wasted on the left make a deal on the right a near-certainty as well. (The Mana merger has been manna for Craig, you might say).

So Craig needs to stand somewhere a deal is possible, and Bennett doesn't offer that option. So it has to be Rodney (again, where you'd think he's likely to get the most party votes given his local government efforts and choice to stand there in 2011) or East Coast Bays (where McCully is the easiest National candidate to move to the list, perhaps in return for the promise of an ambassadorship - or whatever else he might want). 

The only real out from all of that is New Zealand First. Winston Peters will never accept Colin Craig in the same government, given that Craig is trying to take his voters and become his heir in that part of the political kingdom. So Key would have to choose. But would he be confident that Peters would choose him back? And which would he prefer as a partner - Peters or Craig? Craig might harm his vote more but Peters would demand more in government.

Craig will announce his intentions next Sunday afternoon; until then Mitchell and McCully (and Key) are in the odd position of being at the mercy of a minor party. (Unless of course Key sends a quiet message to Craig as to which seat to choose). After that, it'll be up to John Key to choose. Does he risk it all by turning Craig away? Or does he keep the door open to a coalition?

Assuming that Key has no desire to come second and really isn't in this game to lose, he'll minimise the risk, wear the flak and choose the deal with Craig. And Craig will enter parliament as National's biggest junior partner.

Which leaves just one question -- how voters will react to that pre-election deal, plus the others with ACT and United Future, required to get National a third term. Because that could decide the ultimate winner and loser come September.

Comments (9)

by Alan Johnstone on June 14, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Has Colin has wisely come to the same decision that the Greens have and abandoned winning an electorate in the medium term? There is space for his politics; he could easily stand as heir of the Peters bloc. (NZ First of course dies when Winston retires).

If they can get to 5% this time, and don't do anything stupid, he could end up with 10 - 12% in the medium term and be a fixed presence, like the Greens are now.

Begging Key for a seat makes him a suplicant forever; like ACT are. The NZCP needs it's own seperate existence, MMP gives it the chance to advance it's polices, seperate from the socially liberal mainstrem of National.

Key has backed himself into a corner by saying he'll announce deals early, if he endorses Craig early on, he owns everything Craig says.  If he does so later on, it's an admission that he's in big trouble and desperate.

by Alan Johnstone on June 14, 2014
Alan Johnstone

isn't Christine Rankin confirmed for Upper Harbour? If so that's off the table 

by Richard Aston on June 16, 2014
Richard Aston

I am not so sure about how well the Conservatives will do . The polls show between 1% to 2% support in May , the Poll of Polls doesn't even feature them. Its a start but where will the extra 4 to 3 % come from ?

No visible candidates yet aside from Colin Craig and Christine Rankin and both those people are well able to put their feet in their mouths. I reckon they are pretty fragile but if they don't stuff it up and the do build support who knows .

Key's people are well across popular opinion and if the conservatives were showing any real chance of exceeding the 5% mark you bet Key would be looking at deals on an electorate , he would at least get 3 to 5 MPs in the house to partner with which could be worth swallowing a few dead rats for.

I am not a natural conservative but I wonder if Colin Craig is just too flimsy in peoples perception to be seen as a strong conservative leader - Winston plays that game so well.



by Alan Johnstone on June 16, 2014
Alan Johnstone

I really don't see how Craig can take a deal now at this stage. He was very clear on the weekend that it wasn't going to happen.

I rather admire his 5% or nothing strategy.


by Siena Denton on June 16, 2014
Siena Denton

Kiaora Tim

What an appropriate heading for your article.

Quotes from PM John Key on a Radio LIVE interview with Marcus Lush yesterday afternoon...On Colin Craig

"Marcus Lush: Will you shoulder tap him for an electorate?

 John Key: Well as I’ve been saying, he will make a call on what we are doing nearer the time but I don’t think he should hang around waiting for us I mean, like anybody he should decide where he’s running and what he’s doing and if in the end the National Party thinks it’s in our best interests to find some consideration, we’ll do it, if we don’t we won’t.

Marcus Lush: You’d be happy for him to make a call to run for Rodney and you’d ring Mark Mitchell if thats his name and you’ll put him on the list? 

John Key: Well I think he will want to think very carefully where he might go. There is absolutely no guarantee at all that we’ll do an accommodation with Colin Craig. We’ve had no discussions with him and in fact he himself has been running around for quite some time saying he doesn’t want one, so to be honest I think he should just run his campaign and we’ll run ours and we’ll see how it works out and in the end if we decide to try and accommodate him well, we’ll have a discussion with him about it but he’s a completely different political party and at the end of the day, I don’t think we’ll try to run his campaign, we should try and run ours".

Colin Craig runs around like a headless Rooster, cock-a-doodle-doo-dooing about his "87.5-thousand people who wanted to vote for us last time to 120 [thousand]".

Not that I trust polls, but in Colin Craig's case I doubt he had that number of voter's voting for him and his alien party at the last election.

"The only real out from all of that is New Zealand First. Winston Peters will never accept Colin Craig in the same government, given that Craig is trying to take his voters and become his heir in that part of the political kingdom".

I doubt whether our elderly darlings would ever want Colin Craigs slippers under their beds and as for we, "promiscuous young NZ women", it's not our fault he's married to a starfish and young women should be able to access affordable contraception and as for young and not so young men...Put a sock on it!

Labour Leader David Cunliffe said one memorable encounter he had was with a woman in her 80s while visiting pensioner flats. She agreed with everything he said only to then say she would be voting for NZ First.

"I said, 'Why? You like all our policies.' She looked over her glasses at me and said, 'Well, you might be too young to understand, young man, but I'm voting for Winston because he can put his slippers under my bed any time.'"

Mr Cunliffe said he did feel slightly pleased that people of that age still had such thoughts".

Article by Claire Trevett New Zealand Herald Volunteer exposed to full monty while door-knocking for Adern

A personal message from me to Mark Mitchell... "Good on ya Mate" from both myself and Speights.


by Richard Aston on June 16, 2014
Richard Aston

Another angle here on Colin Craig from Russell Brown, 

The Civilian Party’s Ben Uffindell "There are other joke parties getting funding, like the Conservatives and ACT,” .

The conservatives are still a joke party .




by Alan Johnstone on June 16, 2014
Alan Johnstone

The NZCP got 59,237 votes in 2011. i have no idea where he gets the 87.5K figure from.

by Richard Aston on June 17, 2014
Richard Aston

Alan he is probably counting the electorate candidate votes as well.

You are right the Conservatives got 59,237 party votes but if I understand this report well they got a total of 51678 votes for their 52 electorate candidates ie a total of 110915  “supporters”

Of course neither add up to 87.5k  but a percentage of those electorate candidate votes  would have also placed a Conservative party vote as well, ie doubled up.

by Steve on June 20, 2014

The 87.5k figure is the number of voters who gave one or both of their votes to the Conservatives at the last election.

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.