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Hidesight: Soundbite gobbles up Colin Craig's hopes


I prefer doers to armchair critics. That’s why I admire all those standing for office.

There are more than enough sitting on the sidelines throwing rocks. There are precious few putting their hands up attempting to make a difference.

I am doubly impressed by anyone taking it on themselves to start a whole new party. That requires huge commitment and superhuman effort. It means having the courage to step outside the security of the two old parties to create something new and something different. It’s no easy task.

Colin Craig, leader of the new Conservative Party, has my admiration twice over. He’s established a new party and he’s standing. And more than that, he’s a conservative. That means he’s pitted himself against the liberal hand-wringing commentariat. That makes his job doubly difficult.

Having unloaded all that, I now must say I’m disappointed. I have never seen a party so quickly abandon its principles. That normally occurs after election. That’s when political events, the necessary deals, the compromises, the need to work with others, all conspire to chew them out.

But right now the Conservative Party is young and fresh and outside Parliament. It has no need to compromise or cut deals or win over middle voters. It has the luxury of standing alone and of articulating clearly and simply what it stands for and, more than that, of sticking to it, at least for now.  

That’s a stark contrast to the two old parties. They have been in Parliament forever. They long ago gave away even the pretence of holding to philosophical principle. They chase the same voter for the same, all-consuming goal: to win and to hold power. There is no role for philosophical principle or reflection in their ruthless chase for votes. Winning is everything.

The Conservative Party stands apart from all that. Or so it should. And yet at the very first opportunity Mr Craig has jettisoned his party’s principles. He threw away his party’s unique selling point. He didn’t have to. The party could have stuck to its principles and produced the only policy that would have actually worked. But no. Mr Craig dumped the party’s principles in favour of an ill-conceived, nonsensical and counterproductive sound-bite.

“Use it or lose it” is Mr Craig’s message to landowners around Auckland. He told TVNZ’s Q+A programme that, “I’d be writing a letter to all those developers who have locked up all that land and be saying, ‘Look, you’ve got five years to build houses, otherwise we’ll be buying it from you under the Public Works Act.’”

Poof. That’s private property blown up with a bang. Private property! That’s the very heart soul of conservative parties around the world, down through the ages. They are, by their nature and history, respectful of long held societal mores and traditions. Indeed, the right to own property is enshrined in Mr Craig’s very own party’s founding principles. 

But that counts for nothing. Use it or lose it. If Mr Craig decides that you aren’t using your property as he best sees fit he will invoke state power to take it off you. That’s a party utterly abandoning its philosophy and principles.

The maddening thing is that the answer to the housing problem lies entirely within the Conservative Party’s philosophy. The problem would be cleared up once and for all if the government stood up for private property rights and therefore killed off the rural-urban limit and stopped the wealth-sapping Resource Management Act in its tracks.

Mr Craig and his party had the answer. But sadly he opted for soundbite over substance.

Comments and questions

Absolutely right Mr Hide !
I read the reported comment and together with my hatred of the NZ version of the public works act and the weasels who manipulate its use, any support the conservative party might have had is now gone in a nano.

As Reagan said, Rodney, there's no Left or Right, just up or down, freedom or statism (abridged). Conservatives are every bit the statists that the Left are. And also, apparently, opportunists.

The land-banking market is an artificial one created by the rural-urban limit. In the absence of dealing with the urban limit then land-banking needs to be addressed as Mr Craig also proposed.
Any creation of an artificial market be it for land or carbon creates casualties and needs to be addressed.

The problem Steve is that one intervention leads to another and then another. The rural urban limit is a good example. So too is the Chorus debacle. Better to deal with the original problem which the Conservative Party's principles would.

To be fair to Mr Craig he proposed 4 steps in dealing with the Auckland housing crisis, the second of which involved dealing with the rural urban limit. His fourth step involved dealing with the land banking, that the rural urban limit has created.

Well said Mr Hide. Its a party based on a personality not principle.

Good point it takes courage to start a new party in NZ. Look at the fracas around the Pakeha Party and Kim Dot Com's political aspirations. I don't feel a new party will ever be successful if one policy is its making or breaking because "one policy" will not appeal to enough voters. Most rational people vote on a myriad of policies and policy issues that they see will benefit their lives, others and their country.

The freedom to develop land outside of an urban boundary is great in principle, but difficulty arises in servicing or connecting the new infrastructure. Using up undeveloped land that is already serviced is a good option, that sometimes needs incentive. Capital value rating is a driver for change. Given the high cost of establishing a new subdivision, and the risk involved, it makes good sense to put pressure on land bankers to perform. Good move Colin.

The only difficulty in servicing new subdivisions is Council incompetence. Every other supplier of goods and services manages just fine - as do the developers themselves when allowed to do so.

What do you mean by Council incompetence (examples) and what would you propose to fix the perceived problem?

I would suggest that the proposition that the infrastructure is too expensive would not stand up to analysis.

You have to offset the cost of the infrastructure – much of which is paid for by the developers anyway – against the enormous cost to the economy of inflated land values – at least $200,000 per section – the very high cost of building individually designed 2 story houses on back sections, the high cost of knocking over a perfectly good houses to build blocks of flats and a very high cost of upgrading many of the services needed for intensification.

You also have to find more space for new schools parks and the like. When you have driven up land prices to an astronomical extent, this is very difficult. And then, of course, there is the $6 billion probable final cost of the underground railway.

Disagree this land has strategic significance. Property rights would be set aside for a few for the greater good. Just like putting in a new road. Weak article.

Marx would have been proud of you!

Similar discussions going on in the UK

Good on you Rodney for pointing out that National have moved far far away from their founding roots and policy. What once was a great conservative party is now just another liberal do anything to get power party.

Good to see your articles sticking to your area of expertise, politics.

Rodney you follow the Owl. Where do you think he should put his money?

Hi Rodney, Did you by chance interview or make contact with Colin Craig to get his contextual take on his comment before you wrote this article, or did you simply take the "sound-bite" at face value? I trust that Mr Craig will have the right of reply via the NBR?

Rodney Hide and the rest of you need to watch the interview again and listen carefully this time.
If you were paying any attention at all you would have heard that the next thing Colin Craig said after the ultimatum was that the land bankers he was referring to were local and central government agencies!
Of course the government should use it or lose it.

NZ needs to develop the heck out of its land around its cities. I have never understood NZ's preoccupation with protecting its land while its people rot on low wages which drives many of the massive social problems that besiege the increasingly irrelevant country. Beautiful views at the expense of starving kids... FUBAR.

Has it occurred to you that the Conservative Party is not ideologically-driven? They assess each issue on a case-by-case basis. I'd suggest their popular policy on binding referenda is not particularly 'conservative' either. In fact, it's probably the most revolutionary idea to come to NZ democracy since woman's suffrage.

You forgot to mention they are also religious nutters which has a bearing, face it conservatism is over, liberalism is where the world wants to go.