John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Craig and Conservatives get a hard lesson

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's enthusiasm for a deal has served National's interests quite nicely. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's enthusiasm for a deal has served National's interests quite nicely. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Colin Craig might not realise it yet, but he and his Conservative Party colleagues have basically been picked up, chewed over and spat out by National.

Instead of getting a tactical deal which would have seen National give its supporters in East Coast Bays a nod and a wink to give their electorate votes to Craig as the Conservative candidate - and thereby considerably upped his chances of taking out the seat and thus enabling other Conservative candidates to come off the list and coat-tail into Parliament - Craig has got nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. Craig has been handed a lesson in the dangers of believing that - as a minor party - you might be on some kind of equal terms when dealing with either of the two main parties.

The speculation surrounding the possibility of a deal which has been bubbling away all year may have ended up costing Craig plenty. The same applies to the conflicting statements that Craig has made as to whether he wanted or expected a deal.

The net result is that talk of a deal which would have potentially removed the need for the Conservatives to reach the 5 per cent threshold might have had the effect of drastically reducing the Conservatives' share of the party vote in opinion polls.

In retrospect, Craig may have been better advised to eschew any talk of an electoral pact with National and instead gone all out to maximise the Conservatives' party vote.

Craig's party instead goes into the election campaign on 1 to 2 per cent. That level is too far below the 5 per cent threshold for waverers to feel confident they would not be wasting their vote.

In contrast, Craig's enthusiasm for a deal has served National's interests quite nicely - and in a way that might not be immediately obvious.

John Key's decision at the start of the year to make such deals transparent has resulted in National no longer being so coy about what its supporters should do in Act-held Epsom or Peter Dunne's Wellington seat of Ohariu.

In what is a significant shift in the language, National will now "encourage" its supporters in those two seats to give their electorate vote respectively to Dunne or David Seymour, Act's Epsom candidate.

Being so explicit carries risks for National with those who consider coat-tailing to be a rort. While David Cunliffe is seeking to exploit that unhappiness, it is unlikely to be a vote-changer, however.

A deal in East Coast Bays would have played more into the Labour leader's hands. In hindsight, however, it was never really a goer. And Craig should have woken up to that.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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