East Coast Bays

Peters for Northland? Not likely.

Last week, the NZ Herald reported that Winston Peters was considering contesting the Northland electorate by-election, following the resignation of National’s Mike Sabin:

Speaking from Te Tii Marae at Waitangi today, Mr Peters claimed he had been inundated with calls asking if he would put his name forward for the position.

“New Zealand First is seriously going to consider the issue,” Mr Peters said. “It’s a possibility. I’m a local here, I come from here and I know more about this area than a whole lot of other pretenders. I got a whole lot of phone calls. That’s why I’ve been interested.”

I’d have to say, I’d be highly surprised if Peters does in fact end up standing as a candidate. Remember his musings ahead of the last election about running in East Coast Bays against Colin Craig? Or his flirtations with running against John Key in Helensville ahead of the 2011 election?

Peters loves headlines, and he’s well aware that speculation about whether he might stand in prominent electorate battles is guaranteed to provide headlines.

Nonetheless, Peters would have only an outside shot at winning. With Sabin’s 2014 majority sitting at over 9,000, any opposition candidate is going to have a hard road ahead, no matter what their public profile.

Yes, Peters was born in Northland, and he’s got a bach up there, but given his history of representing Tauranga, and his having subsequently been based in Auckland, there would still be the strong whiff of opportunistic carpetbaggery should he stand.

And yes, NZ First received 12.8% of the party vote in Northland in 2104, but that was mostly at the expense of Labour, which received just 16.6% of the party vote. NZ First didn’t stand a candidate last election, and Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime received 25.9% of the electorate vote, just shy of the combined Labour-NZ First party vote of 29.4% party vote.

At the end of the day, perhaps the most important point is that Winston Peters really doesn’t like losing. He won’t put himself forward as an outside chance. His ego simply won’t allow the likely humiliation of losing to an as-yet-unknown National candidate.

Where to now for Colin and the Conservatives?

It’s (almost*) official – there’s no deal for Colin Craig in East Coast Bays. Murray McCully will not be knifed, thrown under a bus or given concrete shoes to go swimming in. Given that Mr Craig had already accepted he couldn’t win if Mr McCully stood against him, I think we can safely say that the odds of an electoral seat victory for the Conservatives are about nil.

(Mr Craig will undoubtedly have done exhaustive polling in the seat, and his polling has evidently given him nothing to trumpet to the media. Although, given Mr Craig’s polling apparently put him on course to win the Rodney electorate last election, which of course he lost by a landslide, any polling announcements showing him on course to win anything would likely have to be treated with a healthy fistful of salt.)

Matthew Hooton has discussed on several occasions National’s internal polling on the likely impact of the Conservatives, which showed that National will lose at least 2% if it did a deal with Colin Craig in East Coast Bays. Essentially, the Conservatives needed to be polling above 3% to make a deal worthwhile, and the simple fact is that they haven’t come close. They’ve made 2.8% and 2.7% in the last two TV3 Reid Research polls. However, of the last dozen major polls released, the only time they’ve been above 2% is in those two Reid Research polls. The remainder of the polls have had them between 0.9% and 1.7%. In this site’s Poll of Polls they’re currently sitting on 1.5%.

National has looked at the polling and decided that a deal simply isn’t worth it.

With the door closed on an electorate, that leaves just one alternative – to make a desperate last-minute dash for the 5% threshold. Given their current polling, it’s highly unlikely they’ll make it.

For a start, prospective small-c conservative voters who might have considered throwing in their lot with Colin Craig have now been sent a signal by National that their vote will be wasted. Those voters are now far more likely to go to National or NZ First. It’s in National’s best interests to now squash the Conservative Party vote – the lower the Conservatives go, the less wasted vote for National to worry about.

When Matthew Hooton appeared as a guest speaker at the recent Conservative Party conference, he told them they needed to be bolder – to embrace the God vote and to look at more extreme policy platforms such as bringing back the death penalty. Given that Mr Craig has already ruled out supporting the death penalty on TV3s The Nation, going for the God vote is probably the Conservatives’ only hope now. Colin Craig has gone head-to-head with Winston Peters and it’s got him nowhere. Mr Peters is very good at being Mr Peters; Colin Craig comes off as a pale imitation.

Regardless of where Colin Craig tacks, policy- and image-wise, it’s fairly safe to say that Mr Craig can kiss his three years worth of investment in his party goodbye. If the party gets no higher than it did at the last election, or even sinks below its 2011 vote, one wonders whether Mr Craig will bother looking to 2017.

* Although John Key has said he won’t pull Murray McCully from East Coast Bays, technically there’s still room for a reversal on that position right up until 26 August when nominations close. Of course, for Mr Key to perform an about-face, something catastrophically wrong would have had to happen to National’s polling, given how desperate such an about-face would look.

The problem with bottom lines…

It looks increasingly unlikely that National will offer Colin Craig an electorate deal in East Coast Bays. Leaving aside the horrible spectre for National of Winston Peters going toe to toe with Mr Craig, leveraging the added publicity to ensure NZ First get over the 5% threshold, and beating Mr Craig in the process, there’s now the added issue of the Conservative Party’s bottom line.

Colin Craig has announced this weekend that introducing binding referenda is a bottom line. Without the promise of binding referenda, the Conservatives will not enter into either a coalition or a confidence and supply agreement.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the concept of binding referenda. The (non-binding) Citizens Initiated Referenda that have taken place in New Zealand have generally been conducted with little informed debate, and have had badly framed questions.*

However, it’s not my personal opinion that matters. It’s the opinion of the National Party that matters here. And National have just had to put up with Labour and the Greens organising a Citizens Initiated Referendum against National’s flagship asset sales policy, with 67.2% of voters voting no to asset sales, and National saying, “Bugger off.” The last thing National would want to do now is turn around and declare support for binding referenda.

And of course, there’s the fairly major issue that, constitutionally speaking, it’s damn near impossible to even introduce binding referenda in this country. For an excellent summary of why, check out Professor Andrew Geddis’ blog post at Pundit.

It all adds up to a very coherent argument for National that it’s better to tell Mr Craig “no deal”, bring down the boot on the Conservative Party’s hopes of getting an electorate seat, and provide no incentive for voters to vote Conservative.

* The anti-smacking referendum question was memorably belittled by John Key, who said it:

“could have been written by Dr Seuss – this isn’t Green Eggs and Ham, this is yes means no and no means yes, but we’re all meant to understand what the referendum means. I think it’s ridiculous myself”.

Likewise, the anti-asset sales referendum question was puzzling for those such as myself who had no ideological opposition to the Government owning only 51% of a power company or airline, but opposed the Government flogging off billions of dollars in shares against Treasury advice that the short sales time frame would over-saturate the market and reduce the financial return for the Government.

Winston Peters & East Coast Bays – National’s nightmare scenario

Back in June, I noted Matthew Hooton’s comment on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme that National were expecting an electorate deal with Colin Craig in East Coast Bays to cost them about 2% to 3% of the party vote. The Conservatives would therefore have to be polling 3% to 4% for an electorate deal to be worthwhile to National.

At the time, I presumed that Mr Hooton had seen some of National’s internal polling. Well, at the Conservatives’ party conference this weekend, Mr Hooton was a guest speaker, and confirmed exactly that:

He cited internal polls which predicted that National would lose 2 per cent of the party vote if it pulled Mr McCully from the East Coast Bays contest.

On this basis, he said Conservatives would need to be pulling at least 3 per cent for Mr Key to consider a deal.

Back in June, the Conservatives were sitting on just 1.4% in this site’s Poll of Polls. Fast forward almost a month, and they haven’t moved, still sitting on 1.4%, well below the point where National needs them to be.

It’s was a conundrum then for National, and it’s just gotten worse, with Winston Peters announcing at the NZ First conference that’s he’s considering standing in East Coast Bays himself if National pull Murray McCully.

The nightmare scenario for National is that the party pulls Murray McCully to give Colin Craig a free run, Winston Peters does indeed put his hat into the electorate’s ring, and that enough people hate Colin Craig and/or electorate deals to give Peters their protest vote. Peters wins East Coast Bays, the Conservatives’ party vote is wasted, and National is reliant on a truculent Peters to form a government.

From Peters’ point of view, it’s a publicity masterstroke. Right up until 26 August, when nominations close, he’ll be able to drop hints and dance around the issue, courting the attention and hogging the headlines.

Frankly, I’d be surprised though if he did stand in East Coast Bays. He’d have to devote too much attention to the electorate, which would impact on NZ First’s nation-wide party vote campaign. We had the same dance routine last election, when he “considered” standing in John Key’s Helensville electorate, which of course never transpired.

The problem for National is that there’s still that nagging possibility that Peters might just be serious. National knows Colin Craig isn’t popular – that’s the entire reason why they’d have to knife Murray McCully. If Peters did decide to stand in East Coast Bays, there’s a significant risk to National that he might just take the seat.

National will undoubtedly have already spent a lot of money polling the good people of East Coast Bays. They might now need to run a few additional polls with some rather different new questions…

Colin Craig running in East Coast Bays

Paula Bennett and Mark Mitchell can now breathe a sigh of relief, happy in the knowledge that there’s no chance John Key will take their electorates off them. For Colin Craig has now decided that East Coast Bays is the seat for him. He’s said, “polling received this week showed my support is stronger in East Coast Bays than in Rodney. This result was an important part of my decision”.

Of course, going by Mr Craig’s previous statements that the Conservative Party is aiming for and will achieve 5% of the vote, that he isn’t seeking a deal in any seat he runs in, and that he won’t be able to beat an incumbent candidate, his personal support in East Coast Bays versus Rodney should matter not a jot. Taken at his word, he’s accepted he can’t win East Coast Bays, but that won’t matter because his party will get 5%. Why should he care whether his personal support is slightly higher in East Coast Bays than in Rodney?

However, one should never take a politician at their word. His talk of personal poll ratings is of course more code to National that he’s waiting for a deal; that he’s popular enough in East Coast Bays that he won’t lose the seat if National pulls Murray McCully. As I’ve discussed before, there’s a significant risk for Mr Craig that his very public acceptance that he can’t win on his own may have jinxed National’s ability to get right-leaning voters to play ball, even if National pull their candidate completely.

National have a big decision to make. But at least McCully has indicated that he’ll roll over if required. National’s Dark Prince has the party running through his veins. If it’s required for a third term to be achieve, McCully will take one for the team.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – the Colin Craig saga continues

It’s just three days ago that I wrote:

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.

I’d thought it was a foregone conclusion that Colin Craig would be gifted a seat by National. The only questions were which seat, when the deal would be announced, and whether National would run a faux candidate or not.

However, Mr Craig’s appearance on the Nation on Saturday morning may well have changed National’s calculus.

All Mr Craig had to do was keep his mouth shut and try and act normal. No talk of fake moon landings or mind-altering chem-trails. Nothing that would make National nervous.

So what does Mr Craig do? He tells Patrick Gower that he hasn’t a hope of beating any of the National MPs in the three North Shore electorates he’s looking at standing in. Given his statement from last week, that he was expecting National to pull one of their candidates to give him a free run at a seat, it’s an implicit admission that he believes that even if National stands a Goldsmith-esque candidate against him, voters will still vote for the National candidate.

That raises a significant problem for National. Do they stand a candidate, give him or her orders to “do a Goldsmith”, and risk having Labour come through the middle? And if they pull a candidate completely, can they trust voters to swallow a Colin Craig-sized dead rat under duress? In Epsom and Ohariu, the voters have always had a choice. If they really didn’t like Rodney Hide, John Banks or Peter Dunne, there was still a National candidate they could plump for. This election will be the same for then. Don’t like Seymour or Dunne? Vote for the National candidate.

National has always asked the voters nicely (or at least given them a saucy little wink and a nudge), and the voters have obliged. What Colin Craig is suggesting though is that the only way he’ll make it into Parliament is through duress. National supporters don’t like me? Tough. There is no National candidate. It’s me or the opposition.

I’m not sure the voters in East Coast Bays, Upper Harbour or Rodney will necessarily play ball. After all, who would be happy being forced into voting for a candidate who admits that he’s otherwise unelectable?

If National don’t end up doing a deal with Mr Craig, National will undoubtedly be hoping that its vote of no confidence in Craig will drive voters away from the Conservatives, possibly back to National. The last thing National would want is the Conservatives getting a decent proportion of the centre-right vote and having it go to waste. Better to send an early signal to voters that a vote for the Conservatives is a wasted vote, and have them desert in droves. The risk, of course, is that those voters head to Winston Peters, helping him get over the line when he might otherwise have fallen just below the 5% threshold.

National’s strategists have some serious thinking to do.

Colin Craig – shuffling shyly in the corner

Colin Craig must be getting desperate. For months now he’s been holding fast to the line that his Conservative Party is confident of crossing the 5% threshold and is therefore not needing or looking for an electorate deal from National. Yet, suddenly, there he was on Radio NZ’s Morning Report yesterday morning, proclaiming that he believes National will do a deal with him. The polls aren’t looking good for the Conservatives (they’re sitting on just 1.5% in this site’s Poll of Polls) and Mr Craig must surely know by now that if National don’t cut him a deal, he’s toast.

The comic element of it all is Mr Craig’s diffidence. He’s trying desperately to sell himself as a vital coalition partner for National, but he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he needs a deal – it will be something thrust upon him, that he’ll have to politely accept. In dance floor terms, he’s standing shyly in the corner, trying to look desirable and hoping that Key asks for a dance before the night ends, but turning away and blushing each time anyone else in the room asks whether he’s got a thing for Key.

If a deal is indeed to be done, National and the Conservatives had better move fast.  If Colin Craig picks a seat, without having a deal in place, only to have the National candidate spit the dummy, things would get extremely messy for both National and the Conservatives.

So which seat will Mr Craig contest? He’s confirmed that he’s intending to make that announcement within a few weeks, and that he’s narrowed his options to Upper Harbour, Rodney or East Coast Bays – he confirmed to Guyon Espiner that those were the only three electorates he was conducting polling in. Epsom and Pakuranga have evidently fallen by the wayside as possible vehicles for Mr Craig’s ambitions…

In Upper Harbour, Paula Bennet has already staked her claim and had that claim supported by John Key. Ms Bennet sets great store in holding an electorate seat, and – given the hammering that Judith Collins’ reputation has taken of late – she’s National’s unofficial top-ranked woman. It would be hard to deny her the safe seat she craves.

In Rodney, incumbent MP Mark Mitchell has this afternoon come out fighting, tweeting, “Colin Craig getting a deal in Rodney – in the famous words of Darryl Kerrigan from the movie The Castle: “Tell him he’s dreamin’.” And Stuff.co.nz are reporting Mr Mitchell as saying, “The prime minister deals with this stuff but as far as I’m concerned there’s no deal in Rodney.” Reading between the lines: Mr Mitchell will roll over and play dead if required, but he’s taking preemptive action in an attempt to get Mr Craig looking elsewhere.

That leaves East Coast Bays and Murray McCully. To me, it’s the most likely target for Colin Craig. McCully must know that his political career doesn’t have too many legs left in it. He seemingly spends more time overseas these days than he does in New Zealand, and he wouldn’t be too surprised to be offered a plum overseas posting in exchange for taking one for the team and dropping onto the list. He’d stick around as a list MP for another term, perhaps continuing in his role as Foreign Affairs Minister, before taking his pick of the overseas postings just before the 2017 election. He’s currently 61. It wouldn’t be too bad a way to drift into retirement…

 

 

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.