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The Eccentric Orbit of Colin Craig

Fri 13 Dec 2013 In: Comment View at NDHA

Is the Prime Minister deluding himself when he argues that Colin Craig is actually "a bit brilliant?" Or does this alleged heir apparent really have no political nous? And if so, why? According to TV3's Nightline and later confirmed on other media outlets, Auckland will experience restructuring of its local electorates. One consequence will be the possible creation of a new North Shore-centred constituency, entitled "Upper Harbour." However, it will include a significant slice of Western Auckland, which may affect the future availability of the seat for National Party aspirations. One Network News noted correspondingly that current Welfare Minister Paula Bennett has said that she wants to become the National Party candidate for Upper Harbour, especially given that her Waitakere seat is due to be abolished by the proposed boundary changes and other current seats will be adjusted to deal with that abolition. Another proposed seat, Kelston, will probably go to Labour's Carmel Sepuloni. As for East Coast Bays, it's held by current Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, he might shift onto the party list, but has shown no evidence as yet that he will in fact do so. East Coast Bays is also home to City Impact Church, a Pentecostal fundamentalist megachurch, whose political pragmatism is sorely lacking. During the eighties, it was briefly represented by Social Credit's Neil Morrison, and Social Credit did have a strong fundamentalist protest vote before the advent of MMP. National is giving mixed signals to the Conservatives. Key is trying to depict them as a trustworthy potential coalition partner and Finance Minister Bill English may be paving the way through announcing that the Key administration has no further plans for asset sales beyond the current set of proposed privatisations. The Conservatives allegedly oppose asset sales and some have argued that this might have represented a potential obstacle to coalition talks. English's move would accomodate Craig. Added to that, English and Craig are both religious social conservatives. While Key isn't, opportunism is evident in his context. Paula Bennett tends to have a good social liberal voting record, while McCully's record is mixed- he voted against marriage equality, for instance. But why isn't Bennett interested in reaching an accomodation with Colin Craig? And he isn't the only one- United Future is actively hostile toward the Conservatives, arguing that his adverse experiences with his former Future New Zealand/Kiwi Party/Conservative Party members suggest the opportunism, manipulative and mercenary nature of Conservative Party fundamentalist activists. In the Sunday Star Times, Andrea Vance interviewed Colin Craig. She noted that while he was sorry that Paula Bennett had firmly insisted that Upper Harbour was hers, there was still the prospect of Foreign Minister Murray McCully standing aside in East Coast Bays for a jacked up constituency vote, taking advantage of any residual social conservatism within the constituency in question. He's not looking at standing in Epsom, perhaps because it's an urban liberal seat and elects urban liberal candidates, whether National or ACT. However, he does intend to finally visit the South Island and sit down and talk with non-Auckland (gasp!) social conservatives. He signalled that Christine Rankin might stand in Upper Harbour as Conservative candidate. While senior citizens like him, clearly Winston Peters, Peter Dunne and the Labour Party don't. And, of course, he's telling porkies about the Conservatives "not" being a fundamentalist microparty. Yeah, right. Rob Hosking appeared conflicted and uncertain in the National Business Review. He seemed uneasy about the Conservatives' social authoritarianism, noting that many classical liberals can (and indeed, do) have issues with their opposition to marriage equality. He finds Conservative stances on compulsory land acquisition and purchase in the case of "land banking" even more alarming as a business commentator. He acknowledged that not even the Greens "had gone that far." However, he argues for a National/Conservative coalition on the basis that there is already interaction between the two parties at the Auckland local level. However, will this situation be accepted by classical liberal voters, formerly at home in ACT? Or National's own classical liberal contingent? Good question. Paula Bennett seems distinctly lukewarm toward the prospect of kowtowing to the Conservatives. She may have good reason. Some more informed National Party members might look askance at Colin Craig's admiration for Sarah Palin, given the Tea Party Republican faction's government shutdown fiasco in the United States in October, and its subsequent horizontal hostility toward centrist and moderate Republicans who sought compromise in this context. Republican opinion poll ratings have crashed below thirty percent given the infighting and this does not bode well for the forthcoming midterm Congressional elections. Through international centre-right forums such as the International Democratic Union, it's probable that the National Party leadership and political strategists are well aware of the Republican woes and that some are leery of the Conservatives for that reason. On TVNZ's Breakfast, Key talked up the Christchurch East by-election result on November 30. There are two problems with the Prime Minister's boosterism in this context. One is that as any resident of Christchurch can tell you, Christchurch East contains New Brighton, which is Christchurch's fundamentalist bible belt, and considered rather down market in that Anglican-dominated city. Nevertheless, the electorate in question has been solidly Labour since its inception over ninety years ago, in 1922. The second is that, as the Elections NZ Results page for the by-election makes clear, New Zealand First didn't stand a candidate in that electorate. Therefore, what would have happened if they had? In 2011, Conservative candidate Leighton Baker got 522 votes, but in 2013, he only managed 487. Therefore, the party has lost votes in that electorate! So, what does Colin Craig want? Increased defense spending, the right to bear firearms in 'self-defence,' climate change denialism and an end to the Emissions Trading Scheme, opposition to fluoridated water supplies (a classic right-wing conspiracy theory obsession), instituting binding citizens referenda, 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 Department of Education budget by 50 per cent and giving half the saving direct to schools. And has he costed any of these policies? Not according to his website, he hasn't. One looks in vain for any evidence of policy development, fact sheets or position papers to justify any of the above. However, the same is not true when it comes to "chemtrails", which are allegedly "chemical and biological agents" within high-altitude aircraft contrail fuel emissions, according to certain far right conspiracy theories. Granted, Colin Craig did say he was sceptical in a recent TV3 interview, but do any other members of his party have such peculiar beliefs? Is National's exploratory polling showing increasing resistance and opposition to the threat that might be posed by the Conservatives to their total voter share? Are there internal National Party debates about the usefulness of such measures, as well as their possible consequences, such as a possible exodus of social liberal voters away from the centre-right? Has it resulted in the emergence of dissent within the parliamentary caucus and party organisation? If I were the Opposition, I'd jump at the chance to exploit any such latent divergences in opinion, given that while the general public doesn't view the Greens as particularly extremist, many social liberal voters have anxieties about the Conservatives. TV3's Campbell Live exemplified such suspicions, profiling the Conservative leader in a sceptical piece. As this was happening, the Prime Minister argued that media outlets were missing the point and that Craig was being "ironic" when he "pretended" to be ambivalent about the veracity of conspiracy theories. Taking up that cue, Craig argued that instead of asking about the Christchurch rebuild, media outlets seemed to want to find out more about his views on the Apollo 11 moon landing back in 1969, one favourite subject of conspiracy theorist denialism. One wonders how media outlets can do much else, given that the Conservative Party is not providing evidence-based supplemental references for its various policy positions, apart from its parliamentary submissions. And Craig's fellow fundamentalists aren't helping matters- witness pseudo-journalist Ian Wishart's latest silly conspiratorial tome, Total Hysteria- oops, sorry, Totalitaria. If I were the Prime Minister, I'd stop and think about this for a moment. Colin Craig has several problems relative to more mainstream centre-right candidates. One, he has never held public office, whether as a local body representative, parliamentary representative or regulatory agency appointee, or been anything other than a corporate CEO. Now, even that obstacle might be surmountable had he previously had prior managerial or professional experience in public relations, advertising or law, all of which involve interaction with central government. To be sure, he has stood for election as Auckland Mayor, but only placed a distant third behind Len Brown and John Banks. Given her useful role as former WINZ CEO, Christine Rankin does have such expertise and I imagine we'll eventually see her appointed as Craig's deputy to try to entice unwary fiscal conservatives to vote for the Conservatives. The other problem is that Colin Craig is a fundamentalist, no matter how much he tries to deny it, and so are most of his party. As those who have studied this religious subculture rigorously can verify, fundamentalists are cultural and political separatists. They view "non-Christian" political and educational institutions, professions, philosophies, social networks and social movements as "corrupt," "fallen" and "secular humanist" dominated, and deliberately oriented toward the marginalisation of fundamentalists, if not active "persecution." Why else would New Zealand have had a ridiculously high succession of fundamentalist Christian political parties- from Christian Heritage to the various incarnations of the Christian Democrats/Future New Zealand/Kiwi Party, the pre-split United Future, the Tamaki/Mortlock front Destiny Party and Family Party and now, the Conservative Party. Why haven't fundamentalists been pragmatic enough to try to position themselves as a social constituency for the centre-right, as their religious counterparts have done with the US Republican Party, instead of pursuing separatist "ideological purity" within fundamentalist microparties? For the National Party and centre-right, this also has fishhooks embedded within it. Fundamentalist separatism and distrust of mainstream political parties means that any coalition might well be fragile, given that they distrust the "non-Christian" nature of the mainstream centre-right and its leadership. I suggest that they listen to their ally Peter Dunne, who has experienced such "heavenly deception" and sectarian duplicity firsthand. The third drawback is that New Zealand politics are highly centralised. For all the anti-Wellingtonian rhetoric about "life beyond the Beltway," government, regulatory agency, public service and their respective institutions are unitary in New Zealand, not federal and devolved amidst other geographical units, as they are in Canada, Australia, the United States and now even the United Kingdom. Auckland's metropolitan size and scale renders it a partial exemption from this general rule, but we have no states or provinces otherwise, except for purposes of sports team branding and franchises. This centralisation has certain consequences. It means that lobby groups based in Wellington may have more realistic and practical ideas about actual political processes, and the need for strategic orientation toward political engagement. In order to undertake successful legislative reform, one gathers one's evidence, forms a lobby organisation, does evidence-based research, enlists a parliamentary ally to draft legislation, and a Law Commission report may or may not recommend change. That may result in a private member's bill or government bill, parliamentary debate, opportunities for select committee submissions and political debates and eventual passage. It is noteworthy that unless they are coherently engaged with the cut and thrust of political debate and policy formation, non-Wellingtonian lobby and pressure groups are subject to nostrums like "binding citizens referenda" and contempt toward practical representative democratic participation through lobbying, presenting parliamentary submissions, party membership and possible selection as an electoral candidate. Unfortunately, the New Zealand Herald has not stopped to consider these potential obstacles to a National/Conservative coalition, gushing that the 'stars are aligning' for Colin Craig. Really? Unlike Nancy Reagan, not all of us believe in the power of astrology. Recommended: National Party Electoral Commission Dan Satherley: "Dan Satherley eyes up East Coast Bays" 3News: 21.11.2013: "Who is Colin Craig?" Campbell Live: 21.11.2013: Andrea Vance and Steve Kilgallon: "Conservative Party: Crazy or credible? Craig's List" Sunday Star Times: 24.11.2013: Rob Hosking: "Key-vangelism, Colin Craig and the Election" National Business Review: 22.11.2013: Not Recommended: Conservative Party: "Stars aligning for Colin Craig" New Zealand Herald: 22.11.2013:  

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Friday, 13th December 2013 - 10:02am

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