Colin Craig launched his Conservative Party's election campaign by assuming a strong moral stance — including ruling out any "bland and inspid cup of tea" electoral deal with National like the one used to keep Act in Parliament.
But while Mr Craig, who confirmed he will stand against Foreign Minister Murray McCully in East Coast Bays, said he would turn down a cup of tea with Prime Minister John Key to give him he nod in the electorate, it would help if National let him win the seat anyway.
Mr Craig announced his well-telegraphed decision yesterday at Rangitoto College, which lies within the electorate. He said his party's campaign theme was "Stand for Something", and the four main things the Conservatives would stand for were binding referendums, tougher sentences for criminals, an end to race-based policies that he said were favouring some groups, and a tax-free zone to ensure everybody received a tax cut.
He and party chief executive, Christine Rankin, both railed against both National and Labour led Governments of recent years, saying they appeared more concerned with attaining and holding onto power than doing what was best for the country or what they'd promised voters.
He told about 200 party faithful those messages were resonating more strongly than political polls would suggest.
"Up and down this country, I have met people who simply say, 'I'm so relieved that you're saying it' because we've got in this strange politically correct environment where politics is turning into something weak and bland and insipid like a cup of tea that's not quite a cup of tea".
Asked about that clear reference to Mr Key's infamous political set piece to send a message to National's Epsom voters to back Act's candidate John Banks during the 2011 election campaign, Mr Craig said his party was focused on getting past the 5 per cent party vote threshold rather than getting into Parliament via a similar arrangement.
"It is about letting the voters speak rather than doing some kind of deal."
He'd had no discussions with National about a deal.
"What they do is up to them."
However, if Mr McCully and National pulled their punches to allow him to take the seat: "I won't deny, it helps if he does."
"People will then know it's an absolute certainty that we get into Parliament otherwise we've got to get five per cent. We believe we'll easily do that but of course any thing like a certain seat, all those things are helpful but it's not something we're asking for.'
Craig said his party's campaign theme
was "Stand for Something", and the
four main things the Conservatives
would stand for were binding referendums,
tougher sentences for criminals, an end to
race-based policies he said were favouring
some groups, and a tax-free zone to ensure
everybody received a tax cut.
If Mr Key invited him for a cup of tea or some other similarly symbolic meeting: "I think I'd politely decline."
The Epsom deal was "something that the voters didn't like".
Mr McCully last week gave his strongest hint yet that he would consider making room for Mr Craig, saying: "I've always said that leaders and boards of parties do make strategic decisions."
But yesterday speaking from Tehran, Mr McCully said Mr Craig's announcement "changes nothing".
"I am pleased to have been selected as the National candidate for East Coast Bays. I have enjoyed strong support from the people of East Coast Bays in past elections. This year I will be campaigning strongly to seek their support again."
Mr Craig appeared to be in two minds about his chances of a successful challenge to Mr McCully without a deal.
He said he didn't think he could take the seat from Mr McCully, but a short time later said: "East Coast Bays has not always been a safe National seat and I don't think it should be assumed that it is."
He had decided run in East Coast Bays due to internal polling showing strong support for the Conservative Party there, and the fact that recent boundary changes meant his home was now within the electorate.
Meanwhile Mr Craig said Christine Rankin would not be challenging Social Development Minster Paula Bennett in the new Upper Harbour electorate, citing a recent brush with pneumonia as a factor.
However, that did not mean she wouldn't be running for the party elsewhere.
Standing for Something — Conservative Party key policies
• Referendums should become binding on Governments
• An end to policies that favour some New Zealanders on the basis of race
• No more"discounting of sentences" to ensure criminals serve their full prison terms.
• A "simplification" of the tax system including a tax free threshold that delivers everybod a tax cut.