|And so, we will have to face two rival power blocs at this year's general election- Labour/Green, or possibly, National/Conservative. Why isn't the latter seen as a particularly convincing coalition choice?
For one thing, the Labour/Green relationship is a reasonably straightforward one. The two parties work in relative unison within Parliament, although there are bound to be some policy disagreements. Overall, given that informed New Zealanders are quite aware that there were two Social Democrat/Green coalitions in Germany during the last decade, we're not prepared to believe the Key administration's assertions that such a relationship would be dysfunctional, as there is clear evidence otherwise. And as the New Zealand Greens have become our third party, they have become more centralised and disciplined. Witness Russell Norman's suit, Metiria Turei's designer clothing, the scale of their caucus now, and their considerable voter share. Clearly, green politics is mainstreamed within New Zealand and National's bloody minded anti-environmentalism during the current parliamentary term has only alienated a large electoral constituency. New Zealand First is polling on the edge of renewed parliamentary exit, and Peters' age may rule out a second try if it misses out this time, so there is little to muddy the prospects of a centre-left coalition.
But what about National and the Conservatives? On a continuum of centre-right political parties, the National Party is closer to the British Conservatives in philosophical terms. They'd probably describe themselves as "classical liberals" rather than "conservatives", on the basis that while they stand for limited government spending, public sector contraction, privatisation, public/private partnerships and other restraint in state economic management, they also favour some degree of individual freedom when it comes to abortion, LGBT rights and sex work as long as such progressive social reforms do not affect productivity and efficiency. They are suspicious of religious social conservatives, concerned that they alienate potential large voter segments within a complex, pluralistic society. Although National's classical liberals co-exist with religious social conservatives within its current caucus, they are not prepared to kowtow to the latter on issues like abortion and LGBT rights.
Granted, Colin Craig himself has acknowledged that he probably won't be able to reverse marriage equality in the next Parliament, or "prostitution law reform"- although the latter remark contradicts an earlier parliamentary submission to the Local Government and Environmental select committee that the Conservatives made in support of the Manukau City Council (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill and its ban on street sex work.
The Conservatives are another matter altogether. As I've noted in previous columns, they are populist, sectarian, prescriptive, and liable to political and cultural separatism. This renders them risky and unreliable in political terms for mainstream, orthodox centre-right parties. Given that few of their members have had any experience in either local government, the public sector or past parliamentary representative status, they do not recognise the need for practical public policies. Whether the National Party likes it or not, at least Labour and the Greens have always cited evidential bases for their particular policy alternatives to the current government. Apart from their parliamentary submissions, the Conservatives have yet to do when it comes to issues outside their obsessions with corporal punishment, opposition to marriage equality and same-sex parenting. Apparently, they've upset anti-euthanasia groups with Colin Craig's lack of comprehension of issues like euthanasia and assisted suicide.
And given that lack of comprehension of mainstream politics due to earlier cultural and political separatism, Craig appears to find it easy to contemplate conspiracy theories, be they chemtrails, 9/11, Apollo 11's moon landing veracity...or climate change denial. A more experienced political aspirant would simply ignore such questions and try to refocus attention on issues of practical relevance. As it is, Craig's remarks and Conservative social conservatism make his party look credulous, rigid, inflexible and narrow. If they appear too narrow, there is corresponding risk that they will try to appeal to too narrow a potential voter share niche and fail to enter Parliament. Moreover, they will also contaminate National's brand- that is, if they do decide to work alongside the National Party. On the weekend of December 14/15, the Sunday Star Times reported that the Conservatives have shoulder-tapped Christine Rankin to stand in the new Upper Harbour seat, where she is already a local board member, against National's Minister for Social Services Paula Bennett. Once more, Bennett was dismissive of the Conservative prospects in that seat. One gets the distinct impression that she really doesn't have all that much time for them.
I would suggest that National's worst-case scenario is this- Colin Craig doesn't shut up when it comes to further eccentric outbursts, some of the Conservative candidates turn out to have dubious baggage in terms of their political views and public statements, there is continued Conservative refusal to commit to a post-election coalition, there is continued vagueness about hard data related to the scope and practicalities of government from their prospective satellite, voters start to reject the prospective coalition in opinion polls due to perceived Conservative extremism, and the Conservatives continue to make fiscally irresponsible demands for never-ending binding citizens referenda without comprehension of the practical expenses of their unrealistic perspective. Conversely, Labour and the Greens have an easier negative target- their tactical plan would therefore be to depict Colin Craig as an irresponsible, populist, sectarian, prescriptive and extremist figure who is overly credulous when it comes to laughable conspiracy theories and determined to foist narrow religious social conservative dogma on the majority of secular New Zealanders who do not share it.
If I were the National Party, I'd hope that either John Banks is vindicated at his forthcoming trial, that ACT accelerates its plans for his Epsom bolthole constituency successor, that ACT and United Future merge, that United Future rebrands itself, or that Matthew Hooton's proposed new centre-right party materialises to replace ACT and turns out to have enough popular appeal to sidestep the potentially destructive object in an eccentric political trajectory lying in its path.
Recommended: Colin Espiner: "Catfight looms in hot seat" Sunday Star Times: 15.12.2013: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/9519067 Craig Young - 19th December 2013