Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Electoral boundaries: Power plays cranking up

With the prospect of a new electorate on the North Shore and changes to the political hierarchy following John Banks' resignation as a minister, National's pre-election machinations around support parties are cranking up

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. Photo / APN
Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. Photo / APN

The electoral gods could well be shining on Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.

One of the two biggest areas of growth in Auckland has been in his own backyard on the North Shore and that means a new electorate seat could be created virtually around him.

If National stood a low-profile candidate rather than a heavyweight like List MP Steven Joyce, and Prime Minister John Key gave voters a steer in the right directions, Craig could be well-placed to take a new seat.

That would provide National with a new potential support partner to replace or supplement the ones that have been self-destructing since the last election: Act whose leader John Banks resigned as a minister last week, United Future whose leader Peter Dunne was forced to resign in June, and the Maori Party.

The next general election might be a year away but machinations around potential support parties is now evident.

Key this week dismissed New Zealand First leader Winston Peters as someone who talked in more riddles than the Mad Hatter. Hardly the behaviour of a Prime Minister who expects to be propped up by Peters after next year's election.

The Representation Commission has been at work on new boundaries this week and for the next two weeks and will announce its decisions on boundaries and the new seat on November 21.

There will definitely be one new electorate created in Auckland after the census figures were announced last month and Craig told the Herald yesterday that he would most likely stand in the seat if it is in his patch - he lives on the border of East Coast Bays and Rodney.

"It would be very, very nice for us. We know it's a good area for us. It would be very nice if the seat ended up here," he said.

"If it works out that they go for the electorate that has grown the largest, which is Upper Harbour, and put a new electorate in there, I'm going to be living in it so it's going to be all very convenient."

If the new seat is further south he will take more time to consider where he stands and he did not rule out standing in Epsom.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, too, is known to be considering standing in an Auckland seat - and the new seat would have to be a possibility or a vacancy if Murray McCully were to shift to the list from East Coast Bays - a repeated rumour.

When asked to comment on the Conservatives and the new seat Peters said: "Elephants don't run round the forest stomping on ants."

The new seat will accommodate 25 per cent growth in each of the Upper Harbour area and the Waitemata area around Auckland Central.

There may well be existing "blue" seats in Auckland where Key has been talking up the Conservatives' polling, in private and in public, suggesting that it has been doing as well as 4 per cent in Auckland.

That is an awful lot higher than the 1 per cent the Herald's DigiPoll survey (1.3 in Auckland) and One News Colmar Brunton poll has them at.

It is doubtful that the Conservatives are doing quite as well as the Prime Minister suggests, but their potential for higher polling is not in doubt.

The Conservatives polled 2.65 per cent in the 2011 election and with the prospect of an Auckland seat, it is quite plausible the party could get as much as 4 per cent in the party vote nationwide next year.

Without a seat, under MMP, that vote would be wasted.

With an electorate seat, the need for a party to reach the 5 per cent threshold is eliminated, and 4 per cent of the vote would give the party entry to Parliament with five MPs.

The Conservatives stood 22 candidates in this month's local body elections and two were elected, both of whom are in the Upper Harbour area: former Winz chief Christine Rankin and former police officer Callum Blair.

The exercise was designed to raise the party's profile and Craig put his best spin on the overall result, working out that just over 20 per cent of voters had voted for one or more Conservative candidates where they had a choice to do so.

National pollster and Kiwiblog commentator David Farrar says things are looking good for the Conservatives.

"Even before you get into any political deals, the way the census has happened, actually, is very happy for the Conservatives, assuming that's where the new seat is."

Farrar also believes there is no need for the "cup of tea" photo opportunity to send signals to voters.

"Generally voters, if they want a centre-right or centre-left Government, can work out what's the smart thing to do. So if there was a seat and Colin Craig was standing for it and they are polling 3 per cent in the polls and the candidate for National is a worthy but low-profile person, you could well see Conservatives do very well there without needing any sort of arrangement."

Key has already indicated he is likely to be more explicit next year rather than rely on the theatrics of a public outing with a leader during an election campaign such as his cup of tea with John Banks last election, to boost his bid to keep Epsom.

After the momentous events of last week - the resignation of Banks as a minister after he was committed for trial over electoral donations and the Mayor of Auckland's extra-marital affair - it is no wonder Mr Key is talking up the Conservatives.

The ramifications of Len Brown's affair could, tangentially, have an effect on national politics.

A common figure of speculation concerning both the Epsom seat and the mayoralty is Cameron Brewer.

Brewer, a long-time Banks loyalist, has effectively carved out a role for himself as the leader of the opposition to Brown on the Auckland Council.

Brewer's name has been mentioned as a possible replacement to stand for Act in Epsom, next election.

Brewer is a popular, high-profile figure in local politics who would be capable of lifting the party vote high enough to bring in extra MPs, saving the party and possibly saving a third-term National Government.

Epsom's National voters are electorally well versed in MMP politics, having had an implicit electoral accommodation with Act in the Epsom electorate for the past two elections: in 2008 when Rodney Hide's win there allowed its nationwide party vote of 3.65 to bring in four extra MPs; and in 2011 when Banks won but its party vote was too low to bring in any extra MPs.

But if Len Brown were forced to resign, it would be no surprise if Brewer put himself forward as a mayoral candidate.

Brewer issued a carefully worded statement yesterday, telling the Herald he had been approached in the past to consider Epsom "but at this stage it's an unlikely proposition".

"Epsom currently has a very experienced MP who has provided solid and reliable parliamentary support to this Government.

"Let's see how Banks goes over the coming months with his current battles. I certainly wouldn't be writing him off at this stage."

Another name that cropped up last election as a potential saviour for Act in Epsom is right wing Remuera commentator Matthew Hooton who yesterday didn't rule the possibility in or out, but said: "It's true that I'm someone who has strong classical liberal views, who is currently concerned about the left-wing trend of the current Government but my focus is on running my business."

Farrar believes that if Banks lost his judicial review against going to trial and then lost the trial as well, he would not only be kicked out of Parliament as required under the law, it would finally destroy Act as well.

"I think the brand would be too damaged."

Craig not interested in 'cup of tea'

Conservative leader Colin Craig says his party is not interested in having a "cup of tea" with any other political leader before the next election.

And if he made it to Parliament, he would talk first to the highest polling party about giving support.

That is most likely to be National - it has been well ahead of Labour in most polls since the 2005 election.

"We're not really interested in a cup of tea," he said. "We'd rather let the voters vote and then work with whatever result we've got."

Mr Craig does not rule out having talks with Labour but he has yet to meet new leader David Cunliffe and says his apparent moves to the left could be problematic.

"We have got supporters that come from the business sector ... They are not going to be too keen on the more socialist lefty policies which Labour, if I have read it right, seems to be gravitating towards."

Mr Craig, a property manager and Christian, says his party has five full-time staff working at its North Shore headquarters, three paid and two volunteers.

He is buoyed by recent television coverage of his party during the New Zealand First party conference last weekend.

"Whether it was that publicity or just the way the wind was blowing, lots of people [are] joining up, including a few people from New Zealand First, and we always like that."

Members and financial supporters amount to 5300.

"I think the next election is going to be very interesting because what happens with us and what happens with New Zealand First is probably going to decide how the Government goes," he said yesterday.

The notion of competition was given oxygen in Parliament this week when Prime Minister John Key told NZ First leader Winston Peters he should start worrying about Mr Craig, although split voting data from last election suggest the Conservatives could take votes across the board, not least from National.

Mr Craig acknowledges there are "cross-overs" with NZ First especially with older voters.

"We've similar sorts of policies, similar sorts of ideas."

Mr Craig came third behind Len Brown and John Banks for the Auckland mayoralty in 2010.

Asked what he thought about Mr Brown's extra-marital affair, Mr Craig said there was probably a lesson in there that everyone should learn from.

"He let himself down, he let his family down and he let a lot of Aucklanders down.

"I got to know him quite well in the first mayoral contest and quite liked him but, gee, disappointing is the word I would use and a lot of people have used."

- NZ Herald

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