There's about one year to go until the general election, and there are some very important debates and decisions in play at the moment relating to the following questions:
How can National help get its preferred coalition partner into Parliament (without causing too much embarrassment)? Can National and the Conservatives work together, and what would a Conservative government look like? Is National worthy of another term in government? How will the proposed new electoral boundaries impact on incumbent MPs? Who will replace the Maori Party leaders as candidates in the Maori seats? Will Russel Norman still be co-leader of the Greens? And what's happening right now with the Christchurch East by-election?
How can National help get its preferred coalition partner into Parliament (without causing too much embarrassment)?
Speculation continues about the machinations National might employ to aid the Conservatives into Parliament at the next election. The option of gifting Colin Craig the Upper Harbour seat appears to be off, with Paula Bennett taking on this less safe seat for National. But John Key still has plenty of options for achieving his goal. The leading contender is to give Colin Craig Murray McCully's much safer seat - a point well made by Matthew Hooton, who says: 'Let's just cut to the chase: If Conservative Party leader Colin Craig doesn't make it into Parliament next year, there will be a Labour/Green government.
National may think it has tactical choices but it doesn't. It must gift Mr Craig East Coast Bays, the seat held since 1987 by Foreign Minister Murray McCully' - see: National must gift East Coast Bays to Colin Craig.
Hooton also urges National to hurry up with sorting out the Conservative option: 'The sooner the party settles matters with Mr Craig - while also pointing out that wacko ideas on property rights and regression on social issues are not welcome - the sooner people will start to have confidence National can win a third term'.
So why is National not moving faster? There is actually a very strong party line coming from National to say that the party isn't in a hurry to sort out the Conservative option, and that nothing will be discussed with the Conservatives, nothing decided, and nothing announced until sometime next year. This apparent lack of urgency is frustrating Cameron Slater, who blogs about the National Party president, saying, How Dopey is Peter Goodfellow?.
The reason for the delay is that National is both determined to get this crucial issue sorted properly, and is highly sensitive to the risks of embarrassment and backlash brought about by making electoral accommodations that might be seen as a rort. This risk is strongly conveyed in the Herald editorial Back-room deals aren't the way, which condemns such deals. The Herald calls for John Key to forgo a deal with the Conservatives: 'He can gain back that self-respect. If he wants a third term as Prime Minister, he should not rely on back-room deals and electoral loopholes. He must win fair and square'.
Of particular sensitivity is the private member's bill about to be debated in Parliament that seeks to abolish the 'coat tail' rule and makes a deal with the Conservatives attractive. National will be inclined to get that debate out of the way before making a deal with Colin Craig. As explained by Andrea Vance in Craig politics - nice and nutty;, 'National would be in a rather awkward position if it was seen to be doing cynical deals while the issue is high on the political agenda'. And Peter Wilson also pushes this line: 'The Government wouldn't look good defeating the bill against the backdrop of a fixed-up result in Upper Harbour. National's president, Peter Goodfellow, says he'll be having a chat with Craig about other options some time next year. He doesn't seem to be in a hurry' - see: Colin Craig needs a new plan.
For an interesting conspiracy theory on this general topic, see The Standard's Coat-tail of Many Colours. The argument is made that National could support Iain Lees Galloway's private member's bill while making a major amendment to it that removes the central purpose (of abolishing the coat-tails provision) while retaining other benefits for National.
So why did National give Paula Bennett the seat of Upper Harbour? Simply because she's the 'future of the party' and plays a strong role in modernising National's image, according to Audrey Young's Bennett asset to Nats. Young says, 'Bennett has huge public appeal and the ability to draw supporters from Labour to National. She proved that when she won the former Labour stronghold of Waitakere in 2008 and then on a recount in 2011. She has built a strong party organisation behind her in Waitakere. She is the antithesis of the National caricature - white, middle-aged businessman. As a former solo mother, she is the acceptable face of welfare reform. Her success in the National Party is a potent symbol'.
What would the Conservatives do in power?
The latest must-read feature about Colin Craig and his policies is Andrea Vance's Conservative Party: Crazy or credible?. This comprehensive piece also includes a list of 10 of the Conservatives' 'more interesting policy platforms' compiled by Steve Kilgallon. Complimenting this is Vance's own opinion piece, Craig politics - nice and nutty, which features the memorable line: 'So far, all the signals point to him being nuttier than squirrel poo'.
Also highly critical of the Conservatives, and with some background experience of some of the personnel involved, is Peter Dunne - see Tracy Watkin's Beware Craig's crazies, warns Dunne.
So, does anyone have a good word to say about the Conservatives? Unsurprisingly, Chris Trotter is also critical of the party in his latest newspaper column: Conservatives a vanity project. And the Herald editorial on Sunday was surprisingly vociferous, referring to 'the Christian-Lite Conservative Party and its troublingly dim leader, Colin Craig', labeling Craig, a 'limp, anaemic excuse for a leader', and saying that 'Whenever Craig speaks, he makes a gaffe' - see: Back-room deals aren't the way.
And, of course, Steve Braunias is typically cutting in his Secret diary of Colin Craig.
Is National worthy of another term in government?
Obviously those on the left think not, but what about the right? Has this National Government actually done enough to warrant a third term? There are some ex-Act Party leaders lining up to criticise John Key's lack of progress. Rodney Hide has written a particularly scathing critique of Key, which aligns with the criticisms that David Cunliffe has been making: 'David Cunliffe's been making political hay labelling John Key "Trader John". He's got a point. The Prime Minister is clearly a great deal-maker' - see: Horse-trading is unwholesome. Hide elaborates: 'We don't need to be questioning Key's integrity to be concerned how it looks to have politicians in a back room using their power to cut a deal with business. The deal-making also inures us to the very political behaviour that makes corruption possible if not inevitable'.
Roger Douglas has also blogged to complain of 'Not one bold decision in five years. Not one decision that will be remembered as changing New Zealand for the better. Rather a conservative, steady as you go approach, always putting politics and votes ahead of the best interests of the nation' - see: New Zealand Needs Reform Not Tinkering. Douglas points to the Scandinavian countries for ideas about proper reform, and asks 'Why is it that John Key won't even consider policies that the socialist Nordic countries take for granted?'.
In contrast, the NBR's Rob Hosking suggests that much more rightwing progress has been made than might be apparent. Although there might appear to be 'little sense of a mission' about John Key, Hosking says: 'There is an un-declared war on old-fashioned Kiwi slacker attitudes and this runs through most of the government's most important policies. It includes everything from national standards in schools to a much more directive and hands-on management of people who are on benefits; and the stepped up effort, fronted by Mr Key himself, against drug abuse. It also runs through Deputy Prime Minister Bill English's state sector reforms, which are very much aimed at measuring outcomes from the taxpayer's colossal investment - a return in terms of results' - see: Key-vangelism and boundary issues (paywalled).
The matter of how National will deal with issues of ethnicity and race relations might be key for its re-election, and for the subsequent government. And here it's useful to read history student Jordan McCluskey's review of how National has changed over the years - see his blog post, The National Party and Maoridom: An occasional partnership?.
How will the proposed new electoral boundaries impact on incumbent MPs?
The best overall discussion of the impact of the recently proposed electorate boundary changes is Tim Watkin's New boundaries = new strategies for major parties. See also, Matt McCarten's Battle of the egos in seat reshuffle.
But perhaps the most interesting is the forecast by Labour Party activist, Patrick Leyland, that Ruth Dyson will lose her electorate of Port Hills, and that Labour will lose it's Mt Roskill electorate, but only after Phil Goff retires - see: National's targets for 2014.
Christchurch electorate changes are further examined by Glenn Conway in Two MPs may lose Christchurch seats. He says this is the 'beginning of the end for at least two Canterbury politicians'. See also, the Press' Parties grapple with new map.
Who will replace the Maori Party leaders as candidates in the Maori seats?
With Tariana Turia retiring at the next election, the Maori Party faces some crucial decisions over replacing her as both co-leader and its candidate for the Te Tai Hauauru electorate. Michael Fox covers the nominees for her seat in his article, Six vie to replace Tariana Turia, and Isaac Davison reports on the related leadership issue in Maori Party not worried about Turia's departure. See also, Morgan Godfery's Winning in Te Tai Hauauru and my own blogpost, Maori Party and Te Tai Hauauru - a sign of looming defeat.
Will Russel Norman still be co-leader of the Greens at the next election?
An unlikely leadership challenge has just been launched against Green Party co-leader Russel Norman - see Andrea Vance's Russel Norman faces leadership challenge. For some interesting reaction and analysis, also see my blogpost, Top tweets about the Greens leadership challenge to Russel Norman. Note that the iPredict stock for Norman to be Green Party co-leader or leader on Nomination Day is currently at 93%.
What's happening with the Christchurch East by-election?
The Christchurch East by-election is on Saturday. For the best update on this, see Vernon Small's Labour and National adopt classic ploy in Chch East by-election. He explains that 'Labour is busy accentuating the negative while National seems hell bent on eliminating the positive with less than a week to go to the Christchurch East by-election'. Small also outlines his own rule-of-thumb for determining whether the parties can consider the results successful or not: 'Anything above 53 per cent will look like a fine result for Labour, anything under 50 per cent a relative failure. If [National's] Doocey can attract 40 per cent of the vote National can be well-pleased. Less than 33 per cent and the warning bells will be ringing for 2014'. But according to one pundit, National has already lost - see Glen Conway Gilmore predicts Labour victory. See also, Audrey Young's Politicians converge on Christchurch East ahead of byelection.
Finally, if you want to have a look at all the Christchurch East by-election advertising, you can view it on the excellent website, www.electionads.org.nz. And you can read some critiques of the Conservative Party ads in Eric Crampton's Builder Baker and James Dann's Ill conceived political advertising; it's what Jesus would have wanted.