Rachel MacGregor's resignation will raise doubts in the swing voters giving the Conservatives a hard look, but what about its top policies? Do its numbers add up?

Colin Craig has stolen the headlines at the business end of the campaign for all the wrong reasons; the mystery of the disappearing press secretary adds to the stress he must be under when he looks at the polls. While he's had momentum, it is yet to get him over five percent in a single poll. And then there are his fiscals.

Craig has often said that he got to 2.7 percent in 2011 after just a few months campaigning, so this time he was sure he'd get over the five percent threshold. But knowing someone more does not always mean liking someone more. I've always felt there was a constituency for a conservative party, but when National is riding high and given New Zealand First's rebirth in recent years, it always seemed that the gap between three percent and five percent was a mighty challenge.

Craig is very,very close and Craig is very, very confident that he's there already; polls have often under-cooked him. But which polls? The 3News-Reid Research poll has always been the most generous, but even in that his high-water 4.9 percent isn't enough. In our Poll of Polls he's still under four.

Frankly, it's too close to call. Losing his right-hand woman today (who has been with him every time I have met him and is his closest adviser) must raise doubts in the minds of those who were considering his party; why would his closest ally call him "manipulative"? What's really going on?

But he could end up as the second largest party in a John Key-led government, and with limited analysis of his core policies. If he makes it, he's earnt it. National has given him no help, with Key this week even clearly urging people not to strategically support his potential partner. But he's flown somewhat under the radar of Dirty Politics and Glenn Greenwald.

The funny thing is, if he does make it you can all-but lock in a National-led government. It's hard to imagine a final count with the Conservatives over five percent that doesn't give National power, with ACT and United Future in tow.

So what would it mean if the Conservatives make it? Of course we'd get the MP who thinks not smacking your kids leads to suicide.

But what about economics? ThGlenn Greenwald stole the news oxygen over the weekend, but check out Craig's interview with Lisa Owen on The Nation. The Conservatives have a tax plan that has been mocked by everyone from ACT to the Greens. While the party backs a continuation of reasonable sized government, it wants to cut its revenue dramatically. It wants a tax-free zone under $20,000 and a flat tax of 25% after that.

Owen asked for costing on his total package, and he replied, as he has before, that the $20,000 tax-free threshold would cost about $4 billion. Now that's debatable, but what about the cost of the flat tax as well? He doesn't know. Here's the exchange:

I want the bill, Mr Craig. How much is it going to cost?

In terms of the 20,000 tax-free threshold, ultimately that is costed at a bit over $4 billion. $4.2 billion. We are not saying—

Your total. Can I have a total?

That’s the total for that.

For your entire--? No, I want a total for your entire tax policy. What is it?

No, we haven’t costed the rest of the tax policy, and I expect to—

We have. So let me talk you through it.

Sure.

We’ve done it. We’ve got two independent costings. One from a top economist and one from a top  tax expert. Both come out at approximately $7 billion.

And that would probably—

How are you going to pay for that?

Look, that would probably be right if you look at the whole package and where we would want to end up.

How are you going to pay for it?

Where we start is we start with a tax-free threshold. That means that people can earn money and take it home without paying tax—

That’s not an explanation of how you’re going to pay for it. Could you give me an answer to that question?

Yes, I am. This is about a smaller, more efficient government. So the sorts of things that save us money. Number one – overwhelmingly, the voters in this country wanted to reduce the size of our government. They wanted less MPs. That would be less staff. That’s less of a bureaucracy.  I’ve talked about the ministry—

$7 billion you’ve got to pay for.

Remember, the first step for us is to bring in that tax-free threshold. The bill of the tax-free threshold is not $7 billion. And this is about starting the progress towards where people can take home $20,000 without paying tax. Of course that’s going to cost money. But this is about a smaller, more efficient government. The second example that I will give you is the Ministry of Education. That doesn’t teach anybody, but it gets well over $800 million in a year.

So the Conservatives' central ecnomic policy is uncosted and we did the numbers for him, with a tax expert and an economist. How's he going to cover the costs? Fewer MPs and cutting the Ministry of Education in half. Apart from what might do to our schools, it doesn't get close to saving $7 billion. His defence is that the policy would come in over time, but he's got no plan as to how even pay for this "first step" let alone how long it would take to introduce the rest of his plan and what would be cut to pay for it.

This is a party that could be National's dominant coalition partner.

And if you say, hey, National will never let that happen, consider binding referenda, which Craig has said is his top priority. Currently citizen initiated referenda require 10 percent of the voting age population to get off the ground; Craig wants to lower that to five percent. So only around 150,000 would be needed to call a referendum. If, as in the last one on state assets, 45% of voters bother to vote, that would mean we could have law changes forced through with the support of 30% of the voting public.

And with such a low threshold, who's to say how many referenda we might end up having, at $9 million a pop.

And if you want to know what referenda can do, ask California. They've had referenda which has required lower taxes, but then one after another other referenda have required the state spend money on this policy and that. The result? Higher costs, lower revenue and all sorts of financial trouble.

So while Craig is surging on the back of doubt about the trustworthiness of other parties, it's important for voters to stop and look closely at the policies the Conservatives are promoting and ask whether the numbers add up.

Comments (10)

by Steve F on September 18, 2014
Steve F

Tim, 

"...Frankly, it's too close to call. Losing his right-hand woman today (who has been with him every time I have met him and is his closest adviser) must raise doubts in the minds of those who were considering his party; why would his closest ally call him "manipulative"? What's really going on......"

Across the blogosphere there is a bias in opinion towards some sort of duplicity on McGregors part. Everything from being bought off by another polictical interest to being a jilted lover. Whatever the case I have a strong sense that after the all the laundry is sanitised that Craig will come out clean. Not squeaky, but clean enough. A possible scenario that hasn't yet been proposed is that he encouraged her and may have even made some sort of verbal promises, that if she got into the PR business there would be a bright future. Perhaps she got a hold of his phone and found out surreptitiously that the future wasn't after all going to be so bright, so sock it to him at the eleventh hour. ....Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned......

 
by Robert Eddes on September 18, 2014
Robert Eddes

From where I sit it seems pretty minor and won't make any real difference although for the sake of the country I hope any votes for Conservative are wasted. 
We do not need a political party who promotes abuses of human rights in any manner, nor do we need to govern by referendum which will be expensive and horrendous for minority groups. 

by william blake on September 18, 2014
william blake

On the bright side once the punch your kids bill has been sorted, we can get onto the referendum for free beer.

by Alan Johnstone on September 18, 2014
Alan Johnstone

If referenda were binding people may take them seriously, I flung my asset sales one in the bin.

They seem to work well enough in the Swizterland.


(nothing in this post should be read as an endorsement of the NZCP)


by Tim Watkin on September 18, 2014
Tim Watkin

Alan, they "may". But then they may not. And we'd have embarked on a pretty major constitutional reform on a wing and a prayer and having given an immense amount of power to a minority of voters to call the shots. And maybe even then another minority of voters to change them back.

This is the sort of thing that should get long and considered thought (before it's binned!) not negotiated by a five percent party for five percent lobby groups. If people don't like small parties as tails wagging the dog in MMP, then...

by Tim Watkin on September 18, 2014
Tim Watkin

Steve, we just don't know yet. It may be personal, professional or just sad. So I'm loathe to speculate. And part of my point is that there are plenty of other reasons to stop and think about this party. But Robert, I'd add that when things are this close for a party, only a relatively few votes could make a huge difference. So it could be crucial. Or not.

by Steve F on September 18, 2014
Steve F

@ Alan

"...They seem to work well enough in  Swizterland...."

That is because they have a written constitution, which in other words is a law that surpasses  parliamentary sovereignty and gives the capability for referenda to then bind future parliaments. NZ is unique in the developed world that along with Israel comprise the two nations who do not have written constitutions. So it requires an understanding of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, the orthodox conception being that Parliament can make or unmake any law whatever, thus the legislature cannot bind it's successors.

Andrew has an excellent piece on this very matter here;

http://pundit.co.nz/content/colin-craig-is-asking-for-the-impossible

I may be corrected here but I can't see such a major constitutional shift occuring in this country as long as it remains a constitutional monarchy


 
by tussock on September 19, 2014
tussock

He also talks up zero parole, longer sentances, and slave labour prisons, and that shit costs billions all on it's own. But it's very easy for him to pay for it. To quote his ad.

Welfare should be reformed. The growing number of welfare dependants and sense of entitlement is bad for our country. Able bodied people of working age should be working.

So, there's at least 4 billion once you close Work & Income down. Get rid of rent subsidies and WFF and you're talking real money. Who needs WFF with a low flat tax? Simplify it all, you see. Nearly 7 billion already, but then.

The Waitangi Claims process should come to an end.

If you read that right, they could probably bank another 2 billion. Add in some government ministries that "don't do anything" like Health, Education, Justice, all those ombudsmen and other wastes of time, chuck out the OIA. Who needs justice with Garth McVicar on the case!

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As for them and National, 43+4 is 47. If people swing National to Conservative, 41+6 is still 47. There's very little wasted vote with him in, so who are the other seats? Māori Party are not supporting an end to Te Tiriti, nor the abolishion of Māori seats. Nor is anyone else. Maybe they'll luck in by 1 seat with ACT and United. Will Peter Dunne go for all that? Any of that? National would be stronger with the vote swinging the other way, to them, and getting half his seats when he misses.

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As for Switzerland, the politicians write the referendums there, it's their equivalent of our concience votes at the third reading stage, nothing like California's madness. Craig has also said here that government would retain a budgetary veto, and also veto anything he didn't like, for example gay marriage. So basically, it's a binding referendum on the things government agrees with ahead of time and not otherwise.

by Eliza on September 19, 2014
Eliza

Alan - really? The minaret ban springs to mind.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8385069.stm

by Richard Aston on September 19, 2014
Richard Aston

Its one thing for Colin Craig to pontificate about what he wants, which way he thinks the country should be run and quite another if he actually makes it into parliament. 
The Conservatives may just become a minor support party in a National lead coalition. If so they will be managed, given a few carrots maybe the odd bauble and maybe even National may use them to try out a few of its own harder right policies, only to pull them if popular opinion rises against them.  
Which of his policies actually stands a chance of getting through as a minor coalition partner?

Tough on crime? Yeah nah, ACT already tried this and it just a vote catcher anyway

Less Tax ? Really, they haven’t got a hope in hell of getting that past Bill English

Referendums?  Maybe they may get a watered down equivalent

Shutting down the treaty process? Unlikely it will create a whole lot more trouble than a hikoi  

What would be really interesting if if they did get into power then a year later spat the dummy when their naive ideas were not taken up , moving to the cross benches . 

 

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