One of the faults of MMP is that it can give disproportionate power to wee parties and their leaders.
New Zealand First with Winston Peters is a classic example of this.
The Conservative Party and its leader Colin Craig could be another and they are both appealing to a similar constituency.
. . . And Craig, at 45, sees himself as a fresh-faced alternative to political warhorse Winston Peters, 68.
He claims to be eating solidly into Peters’ core constituency of the older, socially conservative voter.
Members have switched allegiance, particularly after NZ First’s annual conference in October, he says. “We are enjoying seeing Grey Power no longer invite Winston, but invite me instead . . . there is a sort of transition. We are slowly taking over that space.”
Craig says one of the reasons Peters is in decline is that “he’s lost the mojo”.
“He’s not the Winston he was . . . and I know he thinks he is going to be here till whenever, but there is a point at which you start to lose credibility . . . my impression is that he was, last time, the protest vote. Now we have offered that opportunity in a similar policy space.”
Senior citizens appear to like Craig’s morally conservative views combined with an anti-asset sales stance. “A lot of them think I’m a lovely young fellow, and I get told I’m a good boy! I don’t mind, if they want to think of me as some sort of adopted son.”
Other parties are obviously worrying about Craig too.
His party is more likely to support a National-led government than a Labour one and a new wee party on the rise is likely to take votes from one in decline.
Craig’s opponents clearly now see him as a rival: David Cunliffe repeatedly refers to him as Crazy Colin. UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne launched an astonishing attack yesterday on some of his former MPs, now with the Conservatives.
Craig shrugs this off. Perhaps Labour is worried that he is gaining ground among Pacific Islanders in South Auckland, he wonders.
“I noticed that he has adopted a slightly anti-Colin Craig rhetoric which I find interesting given that I’ve never met him . . . maybe it’s just because I am going to support National and it has just become politically the thing to say.”
He’s also not upset by Dunne’s insults, saying it is unfounded criticism from a “struggling” politician.
“He is talking out of a lot of disappointment. I mean it can’t be easy when at one stage you had eight MPs and he was really in the middle of it then. A lot has transpired, self-inflicted by and large, and now he struggles to get an annual conference together. As one person said to me: it’s not an annual conference, its a support group.”
The Conservatives need to get 5% of the party vote or win an electorate to get into parliament, neither of which is a given.
But if the party’s there, what does it and its leader want to achieve?
1. Spending beyond their means: Leader Colin Craig says he’d like to match Australia’s defence spending at a “percentage level”. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s figures, Australia’s defence budget is US$26.1 billion. Ours is $1.358 billion. If Craig’s sums are based on GDP, it means an extra $1.55 billion; if it’s on population, it means another $4.87 billion. Either way, it’s a lot of guns.
2. If it wasn’t immediately obvious, more guns: Craig would consider introducing national service in return for free tertiary education. And let everyone else have a gun too: the right to bear arms, and the “Castle Doctrine” (basically, the right to shoot burglars).
3. Freedom of choice: a powhiri or a cup of tea (no confirmation on presence or otherwise of gingernuts): Craig, after the outcry when a visiting Danish MP felt intimidated by a powhiri: “Not all visitors to New Zealand are impressed by a bare-bottomed native making threatening gestures . . . if guests choose not to be welcomed in this way, I’m sure a handshake and a cup of tea would go a long way.”
4. Keep on burnin’: Climate change isn’t our fault. Instead, says Craig, volcanoes and sun flares are to blame. “Globally, our influence on temperature is very, very small. New Zealand’s influence is infinitesimally small.” Therefore, as night follows day, they would scrap the emissions trading scheme.
5. Freedom to rot your teeth: Fluoride, says Craig, is “a poison put in the water supply supposedly to improve dental health. No medical treatment should ever be given to a person without their explicit permission.” Here, he notes the vital impression on medical science made by the good councillors of Hamilton, who voted to remove this poison from municipal water (it was overturned in a recent referendum).
6. Grow yer own, toddlers: “I am 100 per cent behind schools teaching children how to raise/tend a garden.”
7. Investment in paper shredders: “Governments are prone to making unnecessary and sometimes quite ludicrous laws. I have a personal goal to scrap more legislation than I approve.”
8. Close yer legs. It’s cheaper: Craig, in April 2012: “We are the country with the most promiscuous young women in the world. This does nothing to help us at all.” This may go hand in hand with dumping the “frankly terrible” Working for Families.
9. Binding citizens-initiated referendums and a 100-day delay on initiating legislation to allow it to be overturned by the public: A deal-breaker in any coalition. “Although other parties might not like the idea much, if it is a choice between government or not, I expect them to be receptive to the idea,” Craig said. This appears to be a not-so-sneaky way to make gay marriage illegal again.
10. And a few other things too: Closing the Waitangi Tribunal; work for the dole; a lot less tax: a tax-free threshold of $25,000 and a flat rate of $20,000; cutting the education department budget by 50 per cent and giving half the saving direct to schools.
It’s difficult to find a coherent philosophy behind this list, some are more dog whistles than policies.
But each will appeal to a few people and some of those will vote for them.
That may or may not be enough to get the party into parliament.
If it does, Craig would be wise to accept there’s a big difference between many ideas which might appeal to some voters and policies which make a positive difference to the country.
If he doesn’t we’ll be faced with another of MMP’s faults – the ability of the tail to wag the dog.