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OPINION: Beware Colin Craig - Conservatives on rise

Tuesday 12 Nov 2013 1:12 p.m.

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig could play a part in forming the next Government (File)

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig could play a part in forming the next Government (File)

Beware of Colin Craig - he is a real player in New Zealand politics now.

I've seen a lot of people complaining and ridiculing Craig in the last couple of days. That's of course up to the individual, but my message is this: get used to him.

Do not underestimate Colin Craig. The Conservative Party are on the rise - and I'll explain why.

1. John Key's backing and an Auckland seat deal

John Key certainly isn't underestimating Craig. Key has seen the writing on the wall - he knows Craig is his ticket to a third term. So he's started talking them up.

And it has worked: the Conservative party got its highest poll result ever in the 3 News Reid Research poll with 2.8 percent. If Craig won an electorate seat, he'd bring in four MPs.

Yesterday, in an interview with me, Key admitted he'd do a deal with Craig if it meant clinging to power.

That deal looks set to go as far as National helping Craig win an Auckland seat in an Epsom-style deal if it comes down to it.

PG: Will you help Colin Craig win a seat in Auckland, if it comes down to it?

Key: What we'd say is we are going to do what we practically can to make sure we can form the next Government.

Translated: Key will do what it takes to win the election, and if that means letting Craig win a seat, so be it.

And of course, Key's tacit backing now makes Craig more relevant than ever before.

And the timing seems to be right - a new Auckland seat is due to be announced on November 21. Likely to be called Upper Harbour, it could be in Colin Craig's home patch,

2. The Christian conservative vote under MMP

I know Craig has carefully branded the Conservatives as not-a-Christian party, but the reality is it is a Christian-Conservative party, and this kind of party has been banging on the door of Parliament for a while.

1996: 4.33 percent (Christian Coalition, 4.33 percent)

I view this 4.33 percent as the bedrock of a united Christian-Conservative vote under MMP. It is important to note, it was taken alongside NZ First getting 13.35 percent.

1999: 3.5 percent (Christian Heritage 2.4 percent, Future NZ 1.1 percent)

2002: 8.1 percent (Christian Heritage 1.4 percent, United Future NZ 6.7 percent)

This was when Future NZ bundled in with Peter Dunne - it shows what can be obtained when the Christian vote is "mainstreamed".

2005: 3.27 percent (United Future 2.67 percent, Destiny 0.6 percent)

2008: 1.26 percent (Family Party 0.35 percent, NZ Pacific Party 0.37 percent, Kiwi Party 0.54 percent)

2011: 2.7 percent (Conservative Party)

So, there is at least the 2.7 percent Colin Craig got last time and up to 4.3 percent seen in 1996 of Christian vote out there. Obviously Craig can aim past this.

There is now no competing Christian-Conservative movement in the political marketplace - he has managed to unify it for the first time since 1996. He has access to the church network - particularly the new-age Christian churches with big membership such as Life and City Impact. But importantly, he has unfettered access not just to the Christian-Conservative vote but to the people, the candidates, the campaigners. He has unified the Christian-Conservative vote and movement.

3. The rise of Colin Craig and the Conservatives

Colin Craig has been steadily building up to a tilt at Parliament. He is organised, and the Conservatives are growing - 5300 members.

2009: Organised "March for Democracy" had 5000 participants.

2010: Candidate for Auckland Mayoralty and received 42,598 votes.

2011: General Election - Conservative Party gets 2.7 percent nationwide. Colin Craig stands in Rodney and gets 8031 votes.

2012: Conservative ticket on Auckland local board election received 50,218 votes (22 candidates, 2 elected).

2011-2013: 3 News Reid Research polling - Conservatives consistently above 1 percent, as high as 2.8 percent now.

So Colin Craig has experience competing in an electorate seat and the ability to get 8000 votes. There looks to be at least 50,000 votes across Auckland for the Conservatives. He also has a funded office, with Christine Rankin as chief executive and three other staff. And we know he has money - he donated $1.6 million of his own money to the party in 2011. The upcoming by-election in Christchurch East, with Leighton Baker standing, will be another chance for Craig to show the Conservatives resourcing. 

4. The gap on the right

A big gap has opened up on the right of National. Most people, including National insiders, believe John Banks and ACT are finished.

As Colin Craig pointed out to me, he believes National has "gone to the left" on issues like paying for school breakfasts.

Craig can clearly make mileage on issues like the Treaty of Waitangi and smacking.

Also law and order where National has moved from a "get tough, get elected" approach to a "we're in - just contain it".

In the latest 3 News poll it showed Colin Craig was taking votes off National - not off Winston Peters.

I actually think Colin Craig and Winston Peters occupy slightly different ground. While Key maybe hopes for some kind of brutal cock-fight between them, it may not work out that way.

Yes, there are huge risks associated with Craig. But that does not take away the facts: the timing is right for Colin Craig to come into the New Zealand Parliament.

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