There’s a considerable reluctance on the part of National to gift an electorate seat to Colin Craig. That’s understandable. No one quite knows what might come out of Mr Craig’s mouth. Right now, that’s no issue for National – John Key can simply shake his head, roll his eyes and say no more. It’s a different story if an electorate deal is announced, as Colin Craig becomes definitively tied to National. Suddenly, Key gets tied to every Craig-ism.
To a lesser extent, Key has a similar problem with ACT, with Jamie Whyte’s propensity for newsworthy philosophical musings. However, ACT at least has a reputation for not rocking the boat. Their support of National doesn’t come with too high a price. To centrist voters, looking for stability, ACT is a known quantity.
Colin Craig and his Conservatives aren’t a known quantity. If they make it into Parliament and strike a coalition or confidence and supply deal with National, no one knows how hard they’ll fight for their “bottom lines” and points of principle. Will they play nicely in the coalition sandpit?
It’s fair to say that if John Key could avoid working with Colin Craig, he would. Unfortunately for National, John Key can’t take the risk of not cutting an electorate deal with the Conservatives.
Various commentators assume that Key is watching the polls, trying to decide whether he needs to or not. That doesn’t make sense to me. After all, look at what happened to the polls in 2011. National was by far and away the largest party, getting 47.3%, but the final polls from One News, 3News, the Herald Digipoll and Fairfax all had National over 50%, able to govern alone. Fairfax was staggeringly high, showing National polling a massive 54%. National scraped over the line, thanks to ACT and United Future getting one seat each, and could also rely on the Maori Party for confidence and supply. If Labour had lost the Te Tai Tonga seat to the Maori Party, National would have been unable to run its asset sales agenda.
No matter how high National are polling, they won’t be able to trust that those polls will hold up on 20 September. The numbers from 2011 dictate that National will strike a deal with the Conservatives. They won’t dare risk losing a chunk of the right-wing vote that may be decisive.