Colin Craig, Jamie Whyte and Pakuranga

Following Maurice Williamson’s fall from grace, the sharks immediately began circling around his electorate seat of Pakuranga. First up was Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, telling Radio NZ:

“I haven’t ruled out standing there myself. I did grow up in Howick and Pakuranga, I played cricket for Howick-Pakuranga, my father taught at Pakuranga College so there are ties to that electorate. It’s an area that I know, an area that I grew up in and then from there it’s a genuine area that I could represent.”

Over at Pundit, Tim Watkins laughs off Mr Craig’s musings on standing in Pakuranga as being nothing but publicity seeking. I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. Here’s my reasoning:

Colin Craig must surely know by now that it’s going to take a miracle to get his Conservative Party over the 5% threshold. His only realistic possibility of making it into Parliament is if National gift him an electorate seat (and the voters play ball). (I’ve blogged about the Conservative Party’s polling issues here, and I note that this site’s Poll of Polls currently has the Conservatives on just 2.0%, hardly lighting the world on fire).

After initially trying to pin his name to the new seat of Upper Harbour, Mr Craig had his hopes firmly dashed by Paula Bennett, who had no intention of going gently into reliance on the lottery of list rankings. Murray McCully’s seat of East Coast Bays then beckoned, with the punditry predicting that McCully would fall on his sword if called upon by John Key. The likelihood of Craig standing there only increased when it was revealed that his father, Ross Craig, had managed to have the electorate boundaries redrawn in order to get Ross Craig and his wife and an additional 120 neighbouring voters into the electorate.

The issue for Mr Craig is that his success in East Coast Bays relies on National throwing one of their long-time stalwart MPs under the bus. John Key isn’t going to want to make that call unless he thinks he really needs Mr Craig, which is why Mr Key is attending ACT party fundraisers in Epsom, and Mr Craig is getting nothing.

I get the feeling that Mr Craig would have looked at Mr Williamson’s blood on the floor and made a calculation or two. Sure, Mr Williamson is another long-time National party stalwart, but he’s also just been sacked as a Minister and may be viewed as expendable. He’s past his prime and has proven himself in the past to be a bit of a loose cannon. If National has to throw a long-serving MP under a bus, wouldn’t it be better to do it to one who’s already a political corpse? Even better, it’s a safe National seat – National won 62.8% of the party vote there in 2011. And to top it all off, the Conservative candidate in 2011 came in third with 5.2% – a good base to start from!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Craig’s expression of interest involved a testing of the waters to check National’s reaction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, National’s public reaction was non-existent, although it may have provoked some discussion in various party back rooms.

The Conservative’s are hoping to finalise their candidates by the end of the month, and I would predict that one further calculation will result in Mr Craig throwing his hat into East Coast Bays. That calculation is Mr Williamson’s reliance on Pakuranga as an insurance policy. He’s been a pariah before, back in 2002 when he was hammered for criticising National’s then-leader Bill English and disappeared from the party list. On that occasion he basically campaigned solely on the electorate vote, gaining a 43.94% personal vote compared to a 26.09% party vote for National in the electorate (although that party vote was still ahead of the nation-wide average). If Williamson wants to stick around as an MP, he’ll be determined to hold Pakuranga to the bitter end, despite whatever the party might want of him.

But Colin Craig wasn’t the only shark circling. ACTs leader, Jamie Whyte, also popped his hand up as a possible contender to take the seat. Mr Whyte’s bid Pakuranga didn’t last long. He soon decided that he didn’t want to end up splitting the anti-Colin Craig vote between he and Mr Williamson, a somewhat laughable proposition.

The odd thing about Mr Whyte’s bid though was that it makes no sense at all for him to make a tilt for a seat he has no chance of winning. National will be gifting ACT Epsom; they’re certainly not going to hand ACT two seats, and Whyte’s individual profile is hardly such that he’d be in a position to take out a sitting MP without National’s help. The only way that Whyte will be making it into Parliament is for ACT to get enough party votes to bring in an additional list MP. The last thing Mr Whyte should be contemplating is the pouring of his energies into an electorate campaign, when his only hope of success is in broadening ACTs nationwide appeal.

Which means, all in all, that Maurice Williamson will remain safe in Pakuranga.

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