There is something to admire in Colin Craig. I disagree with just about every bullet point in his brochure but I like the character he shows as a complete outsider.
Craig is an outsider not just in the sense that his is the only party registering in the polls that has not had a foothold in Parliament. He is even more of an outsider in the media. His rivals give him more respect than commentators and journalists do.
He had to go to court to force TV3 to include him in the first television debate between minor parties, some of which were rating below the Conservatives in the polls. The Nation opened its programme with a statement that made him unwelcome and viewers saw him ignore the host's barely concealed contempt.
He made his points pleasantly and clearly. Once or twice he carried the fight to Winston Peters, providing the only real spark in the programme. Somehow this did not rate with its pundits.
Craig was included in last night's TVOne debate though host Mike Hosking was almost apologetic about it in the Herald yesterday. He suspected the Conservative leader would have "injuncted TVNZ if he hadn't passed our debate criterion [3 per cent in the One News poll]. He got there last Sunday."
He is doing better than 3 per cent. On Newstalk ZB last week, Mike Williams of the Labour Party and former National insider Matthew Hooton happily agreed the Conservatives would not make the 5 per cent threshold for seats in Parliament. That night a TV3 Reid Research poll had them up to 4.6.
John Key will not be surprised. When he decided not to give them a National seat he said there was probably a national constituency for their brand of conservatism. He said it without particular pleasure.
The last thing Key will want is to see the Conservatives maintain their momentum for the next two weeks. The risk is too great that they will just miss the threshold, taking a large number of National votes out of the count and increasing the proportions of the counted vote won by opposition parties.
But how ironic it would be if the bucket of slop poured on him from the far left at the outset of this campaign has worked to the advantage of the Conservatives. It is hard to believe the unrelenting hype of Dirty Politics has had as little effect as the polls suggest.
Opinion polls largely record intending voters. People who refuse to take part in them go uncounted because the poll needs a demographically balanced sample of intending voters. Polls have given us no idea how many people might have switched off politics entirely.
Those are people who might not switch on again until polling day dawns when they decide to vote for a complete newcomer.
Craig has wisely said little about Dirty Politics, unlike Peters who has exploited the poison for all it is worth. But at 6 per cent Peters is doing no better than he usually does.
They could both get over the line on election night. Given the choice who would Key prefer?
Craig would be the easier to do business with. He might take firmer bargaining positions than Peters but on television Craig appears to be open to reason.
His views are those held of most people outside active politics and the public service. He wants lower tax, no Maori privileges, no more sales of public assets or farmland to foreigners, tougher liquor laws, longer prison sentences and reversal of recent laws on parental smacking and gay marriage.
Peters wants most of these too but when Judith Collins said Peters was the last person she'd want to deal with, every politician knew what she meant. Peters is in politics for his own amusement. He plays games, dragging out negotiations to enjoy the attention and bask in the self-importance for as long as he thinks he can stretch the public's patience. In the end he would want some sort of deal that would enable him to keep his distance and play more games whenever it suited him.
Craig would probably settle for a commission of inquiry into binding referendums on citizens' initiatives, which he thinks would bring about all the other policies he wants. Some sort of study would be needed to resolve issues such as how high turnouts should have to be. He could also be given a stocktake of foreign farm ownership, which will probably happen anyway.
He could do well in Parliament. He strikes me as the type who would read policy advice conscientiously and apply his commonsense. There may not be room for a conservative party besides National to find a permanent place in our politics but Colin Craig could have his day. It could be just two weeks away.