Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Post Election Interview with the Conservative Party’s Colin Craig

I thought, having covered the Conservative Party launch BBQ, that I would do a post-election interview with the party leader Colin Craig. I did this and found him to be very pleased with the election result. Sure the party would have liked to make it into parliament, but they showed that they have far more support than four of the parties who did make it in.

Craig stated, “with our result we passed the creditably hurdle,” and for a party that was only four months old they did have something to prove. Where other minor parties were created and headed by ex-MPs from already established parties the Conservative party lacked such a pedigree, which lead to many seeing them as a wasted vote. Yet now, although they did not get in this time, some political commentators have said post-election there is a voter base and room for the Conservatives on the right. With the seeming decline of the ACT party the Conservatives might be a rising power in New Zealand politics.

Discussing the points of the 2011 election Craig highlighted that it was an interesting election. The Rugby World Cup added an extra dimension of “interesting” effectively taking 2 months off the traditional 3-month campaign period. According to Craig the party knew it was going to be a quick and shallow election.

I discussed with Craig the Horizon Polls giving the Conservatives 5.2%, which the party championed but which most commentators rubbished. Given the promotional value of this figure one could forgive the Conservative party for talking up its chances. And although it proved inaccurate once you look at all the polls they all missed the final result of 2.8% by quite a margin. Ipredict reported 1.7%, Digipoll 1.3%, and Roy Morgan and Fairfax failed to rate them at all.

Without such inaccurate poll results, neglect from the media or fear mongering that National might not garner enough support, one has to wonder if an additional 2.2%+ might have voted Conservative. However many may have been afraid of wasting their vote so went for National, ACT or NZ First. One has to wonder if the Horizon poll was in fact a good indicator of the Conservative Party’s true support.

The Future

Our discussion turned to the future of the Conservative Party and what’s install for the next 3 years. “Look what we did in three months, imagine what we can do in three years” stated Craig. “With all the craziness of the election we did not have time to process all the membership forms, we stopped counting after 2000.” He went on to say the party estimates the figure is closer to 3000 and they are on track to replace the Greens as the third largest political party in terms of membership.

“Over the next 3 years we will be focusing on building the party in terms of organisation, structure, members and support” said Craig. He said the Party expects next time round they will take votes off National and ACT, although I asked do they believe they can cut into Labour voters? “Oh yes, many working families that support Labour are socially conservative and would be attracted to the Conservative Party”. I asked if this especially included Pacific Island voters who opposed the legalisation of prostitution, civil unions, anti-smacking etc, which Labour passed. “Yes and no,” he said highlighting that support was mainly likely to come from young Pacific Islanders who are “up and coming educated professionals” rather than older ones who would be set in their ways politically.

Although the Conservatives identify as Centre-Right on the political spectrum, they are the only party on the right who might be able to tap into Labour’s base. The Conservatives are big on family issues, especially family support. Perhaps that’s enough to draw support from socially conservative working class families?

I asked whether there were plans for a youth wing, to which I received the reply “Yes eventually. Many of our young members have called for it although we have no immediate plans.”

Regarding the party’s future and the review of MMP I asked whether the party would be seeking to get the 5% threshold changed. “Yes we will”, although he believed they could still make it if the threshold remains unchanged. Craig pointed out that when MMP was being introduced the Royal Commission proposed a 4% threshold. The major parties raising it to 5% has had a massive effect on New Zealand politics. The Christian Coalition in 1996 and NZ First in 2008 both got over 4% but failed to reach the 5% required to get into parliament. “If the Royal Commission suggested 4%, that’s what they should have gone with.” I then asked should there be a threshold at all? Indeed if a party gets enough for a single seat should that not be enough? In Craig’s personal opinion the threshold should be 2% as that allows for more small parties but would prevent fringe parties getting in and being disruptive to the political process. “Look how hard it was for some parties to get 1%.”
A pressing question I had was that as many political parties support or co-sponsor political parties in local body elections, would the Conservative party be venturing into local government? The answer was they are definitely looking to, but first only in Auckland. This is because Craig has a profile in Auckland since the mayoral election, the party believes the split focus between running a nationwide campaign and an electoral seat hurt the Rodney campaign, and in my opinion at this point in time they don’t want to spread themselves too thin trying to co-ordinate a nationwide effort. But perhaps most significantly Auckland has taken on a newfound strategic importance politically since the Christchurch earthquake. Although Auckland is the financial capital of New Zealand, Christchurch was the second biggest city with the economic strategic role as gateway to the South Island. With Christchurch devastated and looking at a long road to recovery only Wellington’s status as the political capital holds a candle to Auckland (although in the recent listing of most liveable cities in the world Auckland came 3rd and Wellington came 13th).

The next Auckland Supercity elections and the 2014 national election will be vitally important in these turbulent times for the long term stability of the nation and its economy in the middle of a global economic crisis.

Some wondered if the Conservative party would survive the 2011 election, or if they would just fizzle out and die. Quite the opposite with the party now gearing up for political battles which will help set the nations course into an uncertain future.

The fact is that things on the rightwing of New Zealand politics are getting stale. National actually lost support this election. ACT has lost its base with their youth wing looking at defecting to a new Liberal Party and United Future and New Zealand First rely on their respective leaders who might not be there next election. Perhaps the Conservatives will inject the new blood needed in New Zealand politics.

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