National's future appears to be with Colin Craig's Conservative Party. John Key's cultivation of this ally has now reached the point where it is quite clear that the PM is essentially giving up on the hope of other potential coalition partners being enough to get him a third term.

From this point onwards, we can probably talk about a National-Conservative coalition being the main rightwing option at the 2014 election. So Colin Craig's ability to win seats next year will be the vital determinant for National achieving a third term in government. This now makes Craig an important player - a point strongly argued in a must-read opinion piece by Patrick Gower - see: Beware Colin Craig - Conservatives on rise. Gower puts forward an array of evidence and logic for why the Conservatives are the next big thing in politics.

Three other Colin Craig items to watch and read from TV3 are: Key lines up deal with Colin Craig - a 4-minute item (and article), which includes a fascinating interview with Craig, the TV3 Firstline 7-minute video and article, Craig's gay marriage views 'don't matter' - Key, and Conservatives grab votes from National - poll. In this item Patrick Gower reports on the latest TV3 poll saying that, 'Colin Craig's Conservatives are at 2.8 percent, well over double the last poll. It's the highest ever result for the party, and crucially, it is taking votes off National'.

With the relevance of the Conservatives being emphasised in the media - especially by John Key - public support for the party can expect to increase. This is already reflected in the iPredict 2014 party vote prediction for Colin Craig's Conservatives - currently at 4.7%.

An electoral deal with National?

At the crux of the issue is the question of how much National is willing to nurture and cultivate the rising Conservatives. There are many ways in which they can do this, with the most powerful one being an electoral deal in which Colin Craig is essentially endorsed in a particular electorate seat. This will be particularly easy for National to do if next week the Representation Committee announces the creation of a new electorate, Upper Harbour, on Auckland's North Shore. Crucially, this electorate wouldn't already have an incumbent National MP, and would fall exactly within Colin Craig's existing power-base. For more on this see Audrey Young's recent feature Electoral boundaries: Power plays cranking up.

Note however, that Cameron Slater thinks that the 'Upper Harbour' seat isn't going to happen (with a new seat being established in West Auckland instead), and predicts that National will try to help the Conservatives win Murray McCully's current seat of East Coast Bays - see: National's Dodgy Deal with Colin Craig.

Duncan Garner has written in more detail about the upcoming National-Conservative alignment: 'I think National will offer Craig some electoral deal to get him over the line. National will help the Conservatives win a seat so its 2-3% vote is not wasted. Craig could bring with him 3-5 MPs, which could be the difference. John Key has ruled out Winston Peters in the past - my feeling is he will probably do something similar again, early next year, but the decision is yet to be made. Key will, in my view, lay out who his preferred coalition partners are - he will list Peters and New Zealand First last - he may go the next step and tell Kiwis he won't work with him' - see: Five years on - Key passes the test.

An electorate deal with National - or indeed if the Conservatives manage to get over the 5% threshold -will see an influx of new MPs, almost from nowhere. One of the likely parliamentary colleagues for Craig is the party's colourful chief executive, Christine Rankin, who Colin Espiner has profiled - see: Rankin file conservative. In this profile, the ex-boss of boss of Work and Income New Zealand says the Child Youth and Family Service is 'a mad, liberal department'. She also rejects the notion that her party is Christian or rightwing.

Not a Christian party

In response to Espiner's profile of Rankin, Gay NZ's Craig Young has made some interesting observations in his column, Spotlight: Christine Rankin. Young explains why Rankin is being promoted as one of the faces of the Conservatives: 'I suspect that by focusing primarily on Rankin's core fiscal conservative credentials and policy strengths, it is consciously intended to appeal to any National Party-oriented readers through allaying any potential fears that they might have that the Conservatives are a wilfully sectarian, primarily religious social conservative voting bloc that are a potential liability to the viability and stability of any future centre-right government'. He also questions the rejection of the Christian tag, pointing out that 'any online profiling of the party will reveal that its candidates are predominantly conservative evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant Christians, albeit with one or two conservative Mormons and Catholics sprinkled in'. Of course, Rankin herself is not a Christian, but a Buddhist.

Similarly, in another column - Let X=Colin Craig? - Craig Young also questions the non-Christian characterisation of the Conservatives: 'Many of his recent Auckland local body candidates indeed do disclose religious affiliations if one analyses their social network links, and many of them are conservative evangelical Christians'. For further analysis of the recent Conservative Party candidates in the Auckland local government election - see Young's Conning Auckland.

In media interviews, Colin Craig has tended to downplay his and the party's Christianity. For instance, in an 8-minute video interview yesterday with Newstalk ZB's Danny Watson's, Craig said: 'We're not churchie at all. We're a mainstream party with a smorgasboard of people that belong to our party. I'm sure there some of them that have beliefs and practices - I mean I don't go to church myself, and I'm comfortable in that space, but I understand and respect people that do. And sure we draw some support from those sorts of people. .... I don't think religion and politics mix' - see: ZBTV: Colin Craig. You can also watch the Conservative leader's most recent TVNZ Q+A interview here: Colin Craig interview.

We're going to see a lot of Colin Craig on TV over the next year, and probably longer. So how well does he perform in the media? In terms of substance, Rob Hosking of the NBR says: 'Against Mr Craig are a certain awkwardness and lack of mongrel and a general air of not quite believing what he is saying. His pitch seems to lack an emotional core: there is an air of calculation and a feeling he has spotted a potentially lucrative political niche rather than being driven by genuine conviction' - see: Colin Craig and the MMP clothes peg (paywalled). Hosking says Craig also has other factors in his electoral favour ('his Auckland base, his wealth, and his relative youth'). On a pure political communication level, the Media Training NZ blog rates Craig highly, but says he needs to be more expressive with his hands: 'His voice tends to sound monotone most of the time, and that's purely because he is not expressing himself with his hands' - see: Colin Craig, the Conservative Party and media training.

Will National lurch to the right?

So what influence would the Conservatives have on a future National government? Patrick Gower says such an alignment will mean a 'lurch to the right' for National. Tim Watkin is not so sure: 'Gower characterised a National-Conservatives coalition as a potential shift to the right. But it's not as simple as that. The Conservatives pull both ways - socially conservative on smacking, marriage, tougher prison sentences and climate change, for example, but also conservative (as opposed to liberal) economically' - see: John Key tips his Conservative hand, reveals a 'many baskets' strategy for next election. Watkin also wrote an insightful analysis of the Conservatives last year, in which he described Craig's political personality as a mixture of John Key and Rob Muldoon - see: Colin Craig explained - a little John, a little Rob.

Rodney Hide is also questioning Craig's rightwing credentials and principles, in response to the Conservatives recent policy announcement that Auckland property developers should have their land compulsory acquired if they sit on it for too long. Hide's response is: 'That's private property blown up with a bang. Private property! That's the very heart soul of conservative parties around the world, down through the ages. They are, by their nature and history, respectful of long held societal mores and traditions. Indeed, the right to own property is enshrined in Mr Craig's very own party's founding principles' - see Soundbite gobbles up Colin Craig's hopes (paywalled). Hide laments, 'I have never seen a party so quickly abandon its principles. That normally occurs after election'.

For further information about what the Conservatives stand for, see the Ask Colin Q+A on their party website.

Finally, for other reaction to the rise of the new party, see my blogpost, Top tweets about Colin Craig's Conservative Party, and to view photos and cartoons about the party, see my blogpost, Images of Colin Craig and the Conservative Party.

Debate on this article is now closed.