National must gift East Coast Bays to Colin Craig
"National moving in the way advocated in this column could kill off their new potential ally before his party even gets of the ground."Featured comment
Let’s just cut to the chase: If Conservative Party leader Colin Craig doesn’t make it into Parliament next year, there will be a Labour/Green government. National may think it has tactical choices but it doesn’t. It must gift Mr Craig East Coast Bays, the seat held since 1987 by Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
Take a look at the maths. Even though the David Cunliffe experiment has failed to meet expectations, it is fanciful to believe National will significantly increase its vote from the 1,053,398 and the 1,058,636 it won in 2008 and 2011 respectively. The latter gave it 47.31% of the vote, up from the 44.93% in 2008 but only because turnout fell by 97,491.
Indeed, the best assumption is that National’s vote will fall somewhat, simply because of voter weariness and the accumulation of unpopular moves. It is already polling well below where it sat through the 2008-11 Parliament, at about 46% today. It is not going to get to anything like 50% on its own and Act and UnitedFuture are unable to offer anything other than a single MP, polling at 0.3% and 0.1%, respectively. That, of course, assumes they actually do manage to hold on in Epsom and Ohariu against a Labour/Green axis determined to take them out this time by getting their supporters to vote for the National candidate in Epsom and a Labour candidate in Ohariu.
For its part, the Maori Party is at risk of ceasing to exist after 2014 when both Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia retire. Even if Te Ururoa Flavell makes it back, perhaps with one colleague, the party’s remaining supporters will be loath to prop up a third term National-led government if it genuinely held the balance of power.
No one other than Mr Craig is available to give John Key a third term and keep the Greens and Mr Cunliffe out of power. Yes, the fit between National and the Conservatives will be awful, especially given some of the latter’s far-left ideas about economics but that is simply too bad. The Labour/Green threat is so acute, and the electoral arithmetic so alarming, that needs must.
Mr McCully will not like the thought of retiring from his seat. The foreign minister is surprisingly dedicated to his electorate. His Beehive staff have always reported that the volatile MP saves his most explosive tantrums for matters where a constituent is involved. Local school principals speak highly of him. Over the years, he has appointed first-class electorate secretaries to look after constituents when he is in Wellington or abroad, including the current welfare minister, Paula Bennett.
But Mr McCully is also a former PR guru and the party’s long-term strategist. He can do the maths. What’s more, his loyalty to the party goes back to his leadership within the Young Nats in the 1970s and his bold campaign in Auckland Central in 1975, where he only missed out narrowly to Labour’s Richard Prebble. He also would surely like another three years as foreign minister before the horror of retirement or, worse, opposition.
Ms Bennett’s announcement yesterday that she plans to stand for the new Upper Harbour seat has been interpreted as a shot across Mr Craig’s bow. It might be more that she just wants to hold a seat, her existing Waitakere electorate having been carved up. She does, after all, have quite a bit further to go in politics and, as the senior National MP in that part of the country, she has something of a claim on what will be a safe National seat.
Whatever Ms Bennett’s motivation, there is no point in National denying reality. The sooner the party settles matters with Mr Craig – while also pointing out that wacko ideas on property rights and regression on social issues are not welcome – the sooner people will start to have confidence National can win a third term. That will be good both for business confidence and for the sense of momentum that Mr Key needs to join the ranks of Helen Clark, Jim Bolger, Sir Robert Muldoon and Sir Keith Holyoake as the major prime ministers of the last half century.