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.


Comments (20)

by Richard on December 12, 2013

The fact the party's political principles are phrased as a list of beliefs, is a bit of clue that he is some sort of deluded god freak.

And while he says that "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". This just emphasises the point that he is blind to the extent that from the outside his party looks like yet another earnest bunch of god botherers. He thinks his is not a religious party, because he is so thoroughly indoctrinated.

by Richard Aston on December 12, 2013
Richard Aston

I saw the interview with Colin Craig on Third Degree .

While he does look .. odd, I get that he will appeal to a sizable number of conservative voters. I agree Tim, Peters should look out for him. It will be very interesting to see if Peters really goes for him with his inimitable, attack dog digging up the dirt, style.  I wonder what they will find?

He is disarmingly transparent and honest, doesn’t look like an accomplished liar to me but as the other Richard said he could be so naïve as to believe his own religious indoctrination, I dunno.

Their Treaty/Bicultural policy – or lack of it – is pure Brash and will appeal to many.

For the first time I am worried by them, they look like getting well over the 5% margin and perhaps even an electorate – courtesy of the Nats. That will give them serious king maker status and allow them to extract some hefty policy concession from National.

I don’t like their principles at all  not enough real humanity in them it’s all, each for their own etc.

Bugger!  I thought we’d see a change of government next year, looking less likely now.

by Ross on December 12, 2013

they look like getting well over the 5% margin

Really? I'm not sure about that. The last election saw a low turnout. If the Conservatives had scored 5% at the last election (which they didn't), they would need to do even better at the next election at the turnout is likely to increase. Craig has made plenty of gaffes and doesn't seem to have a sense of humour. More of the same and I think he will struggle to make it into Parliament.

by Rex Ahdar on December 12, 2013
Rex Ahdar

Excellent article Tim.

Colin Craig has a certain homespun, corn ball, aw shucks  charm. He reminds me of Woody, the barman, in Cheers. I agree he will appeal to those with a nostalgic leaning. He is not a Christian conservative by his own admission and his public utterances and Party's principles (from its website) confirm that. Depending on who he gets to join him, his Party may well break 5 percent.

by Steve on December 12, 2013

I'm sure the Conservatives will make it into parliament in 2014. Last election they got 2.7% after only being registered for 7 weeks before the election. That made them the 5th highest polling party, with more support than 4(half) of the parties in parliament. Since then they have consistently polled as the 5th highest party despite being outside parliament, they have developed a party structure and network and have a membership almost as large as the Greens. At the recent by-election in Christchurch they doubled their share of the vote and in the Auckland local body elections gained a significant share of the vote.

by Andrew Osborn on December 12, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Mike Hosking did a god piece on him a few days ago. Pretty much summed it up in my opinion:


by Alan Johnstone on December 13, 2013
Alan Johnstone

Chruchill described an opponent thus, He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire. I think of this phrase whenever I see Colin Craig.

He's clearly fishing in the same pool as Winston Peters, he's like a younger version but with added personal honesty and all the charisma removed. In policy terms it's hard to put much between them.

Will he make it over the line next year? My gut says no. I suspect we'll find his candidate list hasn't been vetted very well due to rapid growth, the press will dig out a fundie zelot or two on it and CC will endure a prelonged media kicking as he's asked to condem his own candidates previous positions.

I also suspect he lacks the nous to thrive in the brutal environment of a 6 week election campagin. He clearly represents a group of people though.


by Tim Watkin on December 13, 2013
Tim Watkin

Richard, I think that's a bit of a stretch. They're listed as "principles", just the same as Labour lists its "principles". My problem with your analysis is the lack of evidence.

Richard A/Ross, I'm not at all certain that they'll get 5%, though I wouldn't rule it out. More likely National finds a seat for their allies. Now it's not always easy making a seat vote the way you want, especially for a party as new as the Conservatives and whose public introduction has included the word "nutters". But if it's in Key's interests, I suspect he'll find a way, right?

by Tim Watkin on December 13, 2013
Tim Watkin

Alan, I agree the extra scrutiny, especially in a campaign, will really test him. Look what it did to Palin and others he admires! We may get some 'Russia from my backgarden' quotes. Having said that, there's some steel beneath that aw shucks demeanour.

by Fentex on December 13, 2013

We may get some 'Russia from my backgarden' quotes.

I think he's already said worse - Palin at least was misquoted and misrepresented but Craig doesn't seem to have been with his somewhat credulous comments about nonsensical conspiracy theories.

by Alan Johnstone on December 13, 2013
Alan Johnstone

Sure there is some steel there, but when he wises up and becomes a harder target, the press will pick on others in the organisation and bash the party based on regional candidates.

The NZCP will have to find 70 or 80 people to stand for election; major party's have the ability to weed out those who are going to be a liability, an insurgent force like the NZCP can't. They don't have the organisation.

The UK press now use this as their major atack vector on the Ukip.

by Richard Aston on December 13, 2013
Richard Aston

ok ok maybe I should loose any sleep over the prospect of the Conservative Party dominating govt. Depends somewhat on who they attract as candidates , Alan could be right that without the resouces to background check they will take anyone.
But I imagine there are a few disinchanted ACT, NZ First and perhaps even National people out there sniffing .They may need to get some experianced spin doctors in as well.



by Rich on December 13, 2013

an alliance with David Tua would surely go down a treat

Because not being the sharpest knife in the box to start with and then spending several years being banged on the head for a job is really going to turn out someone with the brain power to run NZ.


by Tim Watkin on December 13, 2013
Tim Watkin

Rich, that did make me LOL. I was meaning he'd be appealing to a voting audience, not that he'd be any good! (But who knows? I don't know the man at all).

As for candidates, I agree. I know they're going through some selectio and vetting as we speak and of course they say they're being very rigorous. And yes they'll pick up some from others parties, as Richard says, I'm sure. But it's hard enough for major parties to get quality candidates (Gilmour anyone?). Look at the Alliance or United Future and even NZF to see how hard it is for smaller parties to get solid folk. Yep, there could well be issues there.

by stuart munro on December 13, 2013
stuart munro

There doesn't seem to be much to object to in Colin Craig. If he can parlay that into a genuine conservatism, without losing a focus on honesty, he and his party might do quite well - it is an underexploited niche in today's parliament.

The problem will be constraining his ambitious colleagues - as it was for Candaules, Edward IV, Lenin, and David Lange.

by Christopher Nimmo on December 14, 2013
Christopher Nimmo

When the Conservatives first launched there was a Chinese version of their website that described the party as a Confucian party (if you trust google translate). I think that this is a pretty good desciption of their philosophy and policies.

by stuart munro on December 14, 2013
stuart munro

Confucius had more than a few good ideas - but it may be that the description is of trying to be all things to all people - Confucian to Asian migrants, Christian to Christian conservatives,  Conspiratorial to conspiracy theorists... That would be Key's game, and the niche is already taken.

by Alan Johnstone on December 15, 2013
Alan Johnstone

I read in the news this morning Colin Craig using the term "catfight" to describe a potential Paula vs Christine battle in upper harbour.

Seriously, "catfight"? Dreadful sexist language that doesn't paly well with female voters.

He needs a filter between his mind and the media.

by Andrew Osborn on December 15, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Alan:Dreadful sexist language that doesn't play well with female voters.

But that statement is also sexist if you think about it.  ;-)

The point being that if you've got the press against you then no matter how you moderate your language, they'll always find something to take issue with.

by Alan Johnstone on December 15, 2013
Alan Johnstone

Perhaps, however I wrote this after hearing my wifes reaction to the quote.

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