Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Craig's stand makes Bays a gripping watch

Colin Craig, leader of the Conservative party. Photo / Paul Taylor
Colin Craig, leader of the Conservative party. Photo / Paul Taylor

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's decision to contest East Coast Bays has made this year's vote a gripping watch -- even if the outcome is all but known.

Among the safest of National seats, the electorate is on the northern edge of Auckland and includes Okura in the north, the coastal suburbs of Torbay and Browns Bay, and Rosedale and Schnapper Rock in the south. Past Census information showed nearly half of its residents were born overseas, with many from Britain, Ireland and Northeast Asia.

Read the Herald's full Election 2014 coverage here.

Boundary changes drew some of its population off to form the new electorate of Upper Harbour.

Mr Craig, a property management multi-millionaire who funds his party from his own pocket, had shown interest in standing in Upper Harbour, but that speculation ended when senior Cabinet minister Paula Bennett confirmed her candidacy.

He then said he would stand in East Coast Bays, and Prime Minister John Key hinted he might pull long-serving MP Murray McCully from the ballot -- giving the Conservatives a seat in Parliament and thereby creating a new coalition partner.

NZ First leader Winston Peters -- who has accused the Conservatives of adopting his party's policies -- threatened to stand there if such a deal was struck, which would have made East Cost Bays the country's most keenly watched electorate.

But Mr Key eventually decided Mr McCully would stand, saying he was uncomfortable with pulling someone off the ballot and there was no guarantee Mr Craig would win if he had.

Mr Craig, buoyed by poll results that have put his party near the 5 per cent threshold, said he was glad no deal had eventuated, as it meant the Conservatives would not be a "patsy party" like Act and United Future.

Admitting electorate victory this election was "unlikely", Craig said he was working particularly hard for party votes -- and playing a longer-term game. "Murray McCully has made it pretty clear that this is his last term. So my ideal scenario is ... I put myself in the absolute position to win it next time."

Mr Craig said the electorate was conservative and family-oriented, and voters were concerned with "larger issues confronting the nation".

Those included sale of land to foreigners, gay marriage and the so-called anti-smacking legislation. A local gripe was the Super City's focus on expensive transport projects on the city side of the harbour.

Mr McCully, the Foreign Affairs Minister, holds one of National's largest electorate majorities, with 65 per cent of people in East Coast Bays voting for him at the last election. He has held it for 27 years.

Mr McCully believed voters were more concerned with national issues, particularly economic management.

Residents were also concerned about a multi-party left coalition, he said, and many were strongly critical of Kim Dotcom and the media's focus on the Dirty Politics fallout.

Greg Milner-White has taken three months off working as a partner at law firm Kensington Swan to campaign as Labour's candidate. In 2011, Vivienne Goldsmith won 20 per cent of electorate votes and 17 per cent of party votes went to Labour.

Housing affordability and the decision not to extend the Northern Busway were among hot voter issues, Mr Milner-White believed.

Children's Autism Foundation general manager Teresa Moore represents the Green Party. Her research has informed its solar panel policy.

NZ First MP Andrew Williams was expected to stand but is off the party's list after complaining about his demotion on its draft list.

Key points

• Held by National MP and Foreign Minister Murray McCully for 27 years, with 65 per cent of voters backing him in the last election.

• A boundary change since has seen areas of East Coast Bays carved off to become part of the new electorate Upper Harbour.

• Prime Minister John Key eyed -- but ultimately decided against -- pulling McCully off the ballot to give Conservative Party leader Colin Craig a route into Parliament.

- NZ Herald

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