Not so long ago, we were all very worried about Colin Craig. With National’s coalition partners failing them one by one, a deal with the Conservative Party in an electorate like East Coast Bays seemed on the cards, and we were staring down the barrel of a government that even some National voters were wary of.
John Key remained coy throughout this, at one point venturing to suggest Craig might be engineering a publicity stunt. However, as it has become more and more obvious that Colin Craig genuinely holds these bizarre views, the National Party has distanced itself from the Conservatives, leaving Craig out in the cold.
Evidence of this emerges from time to time. When the new electorate in Upper Harbour was announced, it seemed like the perfect opening for the Conservative Party, who expressed interest in the seat. However, National big-hitter Paula Bennett announced her candidacy for the seat almost immediately and was seemingly backed by Key – a blow to Conservative ambitions. Sights then were set on Murray McCully’s East Coast Bays electorate. However, National refused to be drawn on whether a ‘teapot’ deal could be on the cards, and this possibility again seems to have faded as Colin Craig has become more visible. When the media honed in on some of Craig’s more unusual personal views, Key did not come to the aid of his potential coalition partner, save for the aforementioned publicity stunt theory, which he must have regretted because I’m not sure if anyone believed it. With the Opposition pinning the Conservatives and their controversial policy to National, Key needed to distance himself from Craig and did so. This week has brought another blow to the Conservatives’ electoral ambitions, when Key weighed in on Colin Craig’sthreat of defamation proceedings against Russel Norman, telling Craig to ‘toughen up’. When a right-wing Prime Minister has taken the side of a Green Party leader instead of a party touted as a potential ally, you know that there is not much hope.
It seems that the party to watch and be wary of is New Zealand First. Once again, against all odds, Winston Peters has somehow managed to find a position as a potential kingmaker. I don’t know if that says something impressive about Winston, or something less impressive about New Zealand. Key’s refusal to rule out working with New Zealand First for the first time in his term as Prime Minister coincided with the height of Colin Craig’s media attention, and appears to shows the Prime Minister’s train of thought right now. At least Winston is predictably unpredictable, whereas Colin Craig is attracting all the worst kinds of controversy. However, New Zealand First’s recent accusation of John Key’s complicity in an imaginary sale of Huka Lodge has disrupted potential relations between the party, and is damaging to Winston, who is usually very good at uncovering this type of thing. As well as this, Winston has spent the last three years in Parliament going for the jugular on many issues on which the New Zealand First stance seems irreconcilable with National. A perceived deal with National now could be bad for his voter base who have been supporting an anti-National party for several years.
However, Winston has done many things that seem outside the realm of possibility before, and so no one should rule out a potential National-NZ First government, cobbled together by ACT and United Future. Whatever the case, it seems that Colin Craig’s time in the spotlight is drawing to a close, and that the Conservative Party has lost a potential seat at the table. We should now turn our attention to the more realistic possibilities and threats.