Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Moral drift leaves Key reading the tea leaves


The news broke a month ago yesterday. There was to be no cup of tea for Colin Craig in East Coast Bays, said the Prime Minister. Instead, their mug had been filled with horse tranquilliser. To the pet food factory for the Conservative Party.

Colin said he didn't care, that's what he wanted all along. The National Party might have kicked him into the long grass, but he was just going to lie there like some exotic stock-photo model, hypnotising the nation with those deep eyes, wells of terrifying integrity. And now here he comes, galloping over the horizon. The 3 News/Reid Research poll on Wednesday night put him on 4.6 per cent. Yesterday's Herald Digipoll survey isn't quite tickling the toes of the 5 per cent threshold, but it's closing in. At this rate the Conservatives could end up with more MPs than they have policies.

How to explain the surge? Colin thinks it's down to the Lochinver thing and lots of glossy flyers - and no doubt the brochures, starring Those Eyes, have had some impact.

But, as with the more predictable rise of NZ First, the main influence, surely, is Dirty Politics. John Key, in a video interview with the Herald the week before Dirty Politics emerged, reckoned the Conservatives were still in with a chance of making 5 per cent because "there is a particular audience for the strong morals that he campaigns on". The political culture depicted in Dirty Politics can only bump that audience from National towards the Conservatives.

Indeed, lying awake late at night, you might find yourself wondering if this is all a vast right-wing conspiracy. Hager detonates his book-bomb, National's social small-c-conservatives defect to the big-C-Conservatives and, look at that, you've got a proper support partner, without Winston, and without any grubby coat-tails. Think about it: Colin might be pulling strings everywhere. Maybe he orchestrated that hideous f***-JK chant and that idiotic kill-the-PM rap. He's probably the power behind the throne of Kim Dotcom. Chances are Hager is his puppet, so is Whale Oil. After all, isn't the slogan One Law Feral?

Could any of that be true? As Colin himself might put it, I don't have a view of it either way. I don't have all the facts. Can't rule it out.

Even if the 3 News poll is roguish, it's heaven-sent for the Conservatives. They can cite the number in debate and on the doorstep, saying: 'look, we're all but over the 5 per cent hurdle, no vote will be wasted'. The media coverage follows, too. As with NZ First, good polls mean plenty more attention from those puffed-up little shits (Pam Corkery). It is self-fulfilling psephology.

For a long time it looked as though there just wasn't room for both Winston and Colin - like some political version of Vader and Luke, the father would have to be slayed first. But Dirty Politics seems to have splintered enough of the moral right to make the startling prospect of both parties in parliament very real.

And if Labour can look up from licking its own wounds - to drop in both those polls is shameful - they can now counter National's line about the motley Red-Green government they might lead, propped up by National faces being beholden to Colin, the guy who says we have the most promiscuous young women in the world and that John Key is "too gay" to be Helensville's MP, who greeted the prospect of gay marriage by saying, "the day of reckoning is still to come", and who includes in that starey brochure - they're being ironic! - the following words: madness, hair-brained, lunacy, crazy, loony, crazy, nuts, insanity, wild and crazy, and loony again.

And remember when 3 News' little-shit-in-chief, Patrick Gower, asked Key if he could name "one good thing that [Craig] has done this year"? He had nothing to offer.

National will take some comfort from the suggestion in yesterday's Herald Digipoll survey that they've stabilised after the drop last week, but they'll also be alarmed at the prospect that the Conservatives might finish somewhere between the TV3 and Herald results, chalking up 4ish per cent, all of which will wash down the blue waste-pipe.

Should it be looking that way come the last week of the campaign, Key and his kitchen cabinet will be faced with a difficult choice - do they need to send a nudge and wink to voters in East Coast Bays, or, God forbid, to the good people in the rotten borough of Epsom? Act might be polling at a level that makes Quade Cooper look popular, but Key has already given them his endorsement. Poor old David Seymour, his knuckles dangling bloodied after all that door-knocking, can hardly be cast adrift now. The answer, perhaps: a three-way cuppa.

(A note to Colin Craig's lawyers and online commenters: I do not literally mean there was any horse tranquilliser. I accept in fact you have more policies than potential MPs. I don't really think Mr Craig is the leader of a vast rightwing conspiracy encompassing Whale Oil and Nicky Hager. Or that polls are literally sent from heaven. I don't honestly contend that Mr Craig is a Star Wars character, or that there is really a blue waste-pipe, and I have no evidence that David Seymour is suffering a hideous hand injury.)

- NZ Herald

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Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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