Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Rankin hits back at Conservative Party critics

The Conservative Party leader Colin Craig with CEO Christine Rankin. Photo / New Zealand Herald Photograph / Brett Phibbs
The Conservative Party leader Colin Craig with CEO Christine Rankin. Photo / New Zealand Herald Photograph / Brett Phibbs

Conservative Party chief executive Christine Rankin has shot back at the critics who have dismissed her party as "loony" and "wacky".

Ms Rankin opened Conservatives' 2014 annual meeting at a hotel near Auckland Airport last night.

The former Families and Commissioner and Work and Income head, who was introduced as "New Zealand's leading lady", said leader Colin Craig had been unfairly labelled by media and the public.

"Let me tell you, I work with this man every single day. And I've done that for some time now, and believe me none of the labels that apply to him are even remotely true. And it's a very frustrating thing to me.

"We've made fun of the loony label, we've debunked the wacky image by asking people to judge our policies for themselves, and decide if they think that they're weird.

"And when people do that, they see that we're anything but strange, and if you look at us here tonight, I think we're quite an impressive bunch of people."

Mr Craig has previously said he was unsure whether the moon landing was real, refused to dismiss conspiracy theories about chemtrails, and claimed that climate change could be caused by the orbit of the planets. Ms Rankin said this criticism had distracted from the Conservative's "sensible" policy platform.

She told an audience of 100 delegates that the party still believed it could work with either National or Labour.

She conceded that many right-leaning voters would choose a National candidate for their electorate vote, and said Conservatives needed to spend their energy on the party vote.

"Last election, we got some 80,000 plus votes, and we only need another 40,000 to get over the 5 per cent. We can do it."

Ms Rankin said Conservatives were now in full election mode.

Leaflets carrying the party's four key platforms ? tougher criminal sentences, binding referendums, income tax cuts and an end to race-based policy ? would be posted to every single letterbox in New Zealand this week. This massive leaflet drop would be repeated at least twice more during the election campaign.

Ms Rankin is expected to run as a candidate for the party, but has not yet confirmed which seat she will contest.

Guest speaker and right-wing political commentator Matthew Hooton told delegates that the party would have to reach 3 per cent to get any chance of National offering it an election deal.

He said polls typically overstated National's vote, and National was still likely to have to depend on Conservatives to get over the line.

"Conservative is not necessarily in every respect my cup of tea, but ? I think it's getting more and more important that John Key has a cup of tea with Colin Craig."

Mr Craig is running in the East Coast Bays seat, where National MP Murray McCully won with a huge majority in 2011.

Mr Hooton said: "Given that 15,000 majority, the only way that John Key can ensure .. that Colin would be guaranteed of winning the seat is if he pulled Murray McCully from the ballot.

"Just understand the magnitude of that decision. This is the foreign minister. He's the longest-serving National MP. He's the dark prince. He knows things. Cutting his throat would be highly controversial ? it would be a step well beyond the cup of tea model."

He cited internal polls which predicted that National would lose 2 per cent of the party vote if it pulled Mr McCully from the East Coast Bays contest.

On this basis, he said Conservatives would need to be pulling at least 3 per cent for Mr Key to consider a deal.

Mr Hooton also gave Conservatives advice on what values to emphasize during their campaign, saying they could afford to be extreme and offend 95 per cent of the population because they only needed 5 per cent of the vote.

He received the loudest cheer of the night when he told Conservative to emphasize its evangelical Christian side, saying that no other party targeted the religious vote.

"I'd put God a bit more into focus. I don't think you should be ashamed of speaking for Christian governance."

Mr Hooton told party members to "go big on smacking". Mr Craig previously funded a march against anti-smacking legislation and helped organise a referendum on the issue.

The party has a hard-line law and order policy, and Mr Hooton went as far as to suggest it should re-ignite the debate on the death penalty in New Zealand.

"You're not telling me there's not 1 in 20 New Zealanders who wouldn't vote on that issue," he said.

Mr Craig will deliver the keynote speech this afternoon, which will focus on the need for smaller government.

- NZ Herald

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