Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: What are the Conservatives' prospects?

Colin Craig. Photo / Richard Robinson
Colin Craig. Photo / Richard Robinson

After its experience with the recent meltdowns and craziness of the Act Party, you might expect National to be wary of getting close to parties like the nascent moral-Christian Conservatives and its leader Colin Craig.

Part of the problem, of course, is of National's own making. While polls focus on individual parties - particularly the disparity between National and Labour - the reality is that under MMP the left and right political blocs have remained fairly evenly balanced.

National's historic poll high last year was largely at the expense of its potential coalition partners. If National insists on sucking the political oxygen from the right side of the party system, then it shouldn't be a surprise that what's left are small fringe parties. Labour may be worried about the rise of the Greens at their expenses but it does at least provide some stability and more options for growing the left bloc's vote.

So what are the prospects for the Conservatives? Christian-based political parties have a particularly poor record in New Zealand. Although there is undoubtedly a niche constituency of at least 5% that could support Colin Craig's Conservatives, the history of Christian-based parties suggests achieving that will be problematic.

We actually don't 'do God' in New Zealand politics. We are a society in which it's generally frowned upon to openly debate politics, religion and sex and we certainly have no history of successful political parties based on religion.

Instead we have a rather inglorious MMP-era history of fracturing, bickering, and short-lived Christian parties. Some of this is detailed in a 2007 blog post I wrote, Christian craziness, which goes through the rise and fall of the many attempts to establish religious political parties including the Christian Heritage Party, led by the notorious Graham Capill, the Christian Democrats led by ex-National MP Graeme Lee, the short-lived Christian Coalition (which achieved 4.4% at the 1996 MMP election), Merepeka Raukawa-Tait's involvement in Christian Heritage, and the establishment of the quasi-Christian United Future. Since then, we've had further mavericks involved: Brian Tamaki starting the Destiny Party, Philip Field establishing the Pacific Party, Gordon Copeland's Kiwi Party, and then Richard Lewis and the Family Party. All in all the precedents are not favourable.

However, with Act's almost certain demise, the Maori Party also facing a struggle to survive post-2014, and National's record poll ratings already slipping, John Key's future options are practically limited to New Zealand First and the Conservatives.

Attention has focused on the Conservatives because of John Bank's problems, but, as John Armstrong points out in a must-read analysis (see: Rodney MP may be just a little anxious), a by-election in Epsom is unlikely and a Conservative Party win even less likely. Armstrong points to the electorate of Rodney as a more likely scenario for 2014. This is where Colin Craig came second with 21% of the vote in 2011. But even then, sitting Rodney MP Mark Mitchell would have to be moved aside, and any perception of a 'teapot tapes' style deal could be political poison.

Cameron Slater thinks that a 'wink and a nod' deal won't do it and that National would have to outright gift a seat to Colin Craig by not fielding a candidate. Slater picks Murray McCully's East Coast Bays seat as the best bet as McCully has less local political infrastructure and is more likely to be willing to walk away. He acknowledges that it would be a 'big call' for National to do that, but that growing desperation closer to the election may drive them to it - see: In A seat for Colin Craig?.

Scrutiny of the Conservative Party leader has centred around a 2007 employment dispute where a sacked worker claimed Craig forced staff to take part in prayer sessions and implied that being short was a consequence of sin. Although the Employment Court found the worker had been unjustifiably dismissed it rejected the claims about the compulsory prayer meetings and shortness - see: Andrea Vance's Craig may be manna from heaven for Key. National could be welcoming this early public scrutiny of the Conservatives. If there are more accusations of Christian extremismto come then National would rather they emerge now than a week before the next election.

Colin Craig is certainly making re-assuring noises about supporting National, despite policy differences over asset and land sales - see Duncan Garner's Colin Craig determined to keep National in power and Patrick Gower's Colin Craig: John Key's new messiah of the right?. John Hartevelt has a very good comparison between Banks and Craig, summarising their political careers to date - see: Colin Craig And John Banks Compared.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* The plan to encourage female beneficiaries and their teenage children to use long term contraceptive methods has provoked claims of state control over reproduction. Although the policy is voluntary and makes access free of charge, Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Sue Bradford says the involvement of WINZ case managers, who also control access to benefits means beneficiaries are open to intimidation - see: Claire Trevett's Free birth control for beneficiaries. Tova O'Brien's Adult mums ineligible for $80m childcare spend also reports that, while the government is increasing childcare funding, only 1200 teenage beneficiaries will be eligible. For Gordon Campbell's view, see: On free contraception for the beneficiary poor.

* The Electoral Commission is unhappy with the enforcement of electoral law - see Claire Trevett's Electoral body takes swipe at police inertia, while the Broadcasting Standards Authority have decided that the Child poverty film did not breach election rules. Also on the issue of electoral law and regulation, Graeme Edgeler has blogged on how breaches of the electoral law have been dealt with and also posts his submission on the review of the 2011 election -see: Semi-Random election law thoughts. David Farrar's submission can also be viewed here.

* Tracy Watkins looks at the Prime Minister's department crisis management in Key takes hands-on role in MFAT restructuring.

* John Carran form Gareth Morgan Investments makes a plea to the Government not to endanger the country's reputation for good governance and lack of corruption - see: Skycity deal sends wrong message.

* Labour leader David Shearer is keeping quiet about his dinner with media lobbyists - see: John Drinnan's Sky TV boss also ate with Shearer.

* A little bit of pain now will head off a European style austerity crisis and the associated political fallout according to John Hartevelt (Why Key is no Sarko) but Barry Soper reports that Latest political poll shows National down.

* Dave Armstrong challenges those parties that oppose asset sales to take an 'anti-capitalist' approach and actually promise to re-nationalise them (without full compensation to the private sector) rather than just protest (Maybe there's a different way on asset sales).

* Satirist Danyl Mclauchlan indulges in a bit of humourous scaremongering (Government announces urgent crackdown on scaremongering).

* Child support rules are set to be reformed, in what Kate Shuttleworth says are the biggest changes in 20 years - see: Child support system to get huge overhaul.

* Do donations to political parties really buy influence? Alex Fensome has interviewed the Act Party's 'most generous donor, Southland millionaire Louis Crimp' and found that he's had some differences with the party: 1) he once labelled John Banks 'a twerp' for disagreeing with Don Brash's suggestion to decriminalise cannabis, and 2) he says 'I gave them $100,000 to do something about the Maoris', but then Act decided to 'make treaty issues only No10 in the party's priorities' in last year's election (ACT's biggest donor unfazed by scandal).

* Toby Manhire reports on the launch of the Hutt Valley branch of the National Party, but ponders why it's taken place in 'posh Renouf Tennis Centre at the bottom of Brooklyn Hill. In central Wellington. A long way from the Hutt Valley' (National party Hutt branch launches ...).

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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