The Conservatives have now found their turangawaewae - they're offering the same but different whereas Peters has to figure out how to sell his 'wait and see' approach to coalition

The shadow boxing between Winston Peters and Colin Craig is will be one of the most interesting bouts on display in the final weeks of the campaign. Just how these two spar - and triangulate with John Key - could be crucial to the shape of the next government.

It's the defending champ versus the young pretender. You saw it on the Campbell Live dinner last night. For Craig the rest of the guests were irrelevant, he simply needed to box Peters into a corner. He did that by using a line we'll hear a lot from him from here until the election - 'if you want National (but with better morals) vote Conservative, because New Zealand First won't say which major party it will support'.

Craig is hoping that there's two percent soft National support out there that is disillusioned with National, but not in love with the idea of a Labour-led coalition. His hope is that they want to change the government, but not too much. He's hoping that people will be happy for National-ACT-United Future to be joined by the Conservatives with half a dozen MPs to keep things, well, conservative.

New Zealand First is still in the box seat, because it's over five percent in most polls and has Winston Peters with the gloves on. He's not going to get boxed in easily. But he is trapped by his own promise to let the voters speak first before indicating which way NZF will go. So if you're a soft National supporter -- someone in the space between National on 50% and National on 45% -- then Peters can't offer you any guarantees.

It's intriguing to see these parties fighting it out near to five percent, because the wisdom of the commentators is that there wouldn't be room for both of them to get five percent. I've always thought the Conservatives would get around four percent, but that the final one could be a bridge too far. Yet Dirty Politics has some floating voters looking for a safe, more decent harbour, so there's now a definite chance both could cross the threshold.

What will be fascinating is how Key plays the competition between the two. For him, the calculation is that he could work with either, and if either get to five percent they will probably be all he needs (with ACT and UF) to govern. He would have to choose, because Peters would never support a government with the Conservatives on board. But he might be able to play them off against each other. And, as odd as it seems, he may prefer the young pretender to the old tusker; indeed a couple of journalists I've spoken to say he's been saying that out loud the past two days.

For him I guess there's a certain logic: Think of 2017. Think of an easier life for the next three years with a new party in cabinet rather than a cross-benches arrangement when he goes cap in hand to Winston on every bill. And think of only having binding referenda as a bottom line, instead of New Zealand First's long list.

And most of all, think of that fact that if Craig gets five percent, it means Labour isn't taking its falling vote and National is probably home and hosed.

On the other hand, he rejected a deal with Craig in East Coast Bays just weeks ago because he feared National would be damaged by association. Does he want to court Craig too openly given his track-record of chem trails and moon landings? And isn't there still time for Craig to crack and look out of his depth? On the online-only segment of the Campbell Live dinner Craig said he wanted to cut the Ministry of Education's budget in half to fund his flat tax, which will raise a few eyebrows.

So will enough people still buy into Craig if they know about the implications of binding referenda, flat tax and no new trade deals? Might Key prefer the devil he knows rather than the risk of the unknown new boy?

So the opening blow in this round has been landed by Craig, arguing that he is the man to deliver a government that's different but the same. How will Peters respond?


Comments (10)

by Kat on September 04, 2014

Winston made a very intersting comment that after the election he wants to be in a govt that is involved in "cleaning up politics". That is greatly at odds with John Key and National. The Conservatives are just mopping up left over support from Act and United Future. Outside of Epsom Act is dead. Outside of Ohariu United Future is dead.

Winston doesn't need to respond to anything that Craig or Key says because he will be wanting to leave a legacy of achievement not failure. By not saying publicly, but all the time privately knowing who he will support after the election, Winston keeps his independent stance intact and his options seemingly open. That is the attraction of NZ First.



by Tim Watkin on September 04, 2014
Tim Watkin

Kat, ACT and UF haven't moved in the polls for years. So I don't think there's any evidence the Conservatives are "mopping up" their supporters. It seems its growth is coming from the major parties.

by Kat on September 04, 2014

Tim, are you suggesting Labour is bleeding support to the Conservatives, If it was it would be miniscule. If anything Labour is bleeding support to the Greens and NZ First.    

My point is that the Conservatives support base is mainly those right wing fundamentalist votes that went from National to Act and UF originally back from 2002. The fact that Act and UF haven't moved in the polls for years supports my observation. National has shed at least 6 points since 2011, and dropping, Act and UF are not moving.

by Nick Gibbs on September 04, 2014
Nick Gibbs

If Key needs more than UF, Act and the Maori party then I think he leap at the chance to work with Colin Craig. He may not like his beliefs and ideas but Craig is a probably a lot more reliable than Winston. If Winston's in the mix, National will be out in 2017, killed by Winston's lies and hypocrisy.

by william blake on September 04, 2014
william blake


if you want to change the government without changing this government you are deluded. Thie National are true Tories, born to rule arrogant as all fuck, they will buy Winston and bulldoze Craig. The other parties are history. 

if you are right wing and want to change the government just don't vote.

by Tim Watkin on September 05, 2014
Tim Watkin

Nick, I think it's a good point, except... why then didn't Key set Craig up in ECB? Clearly National has some serious reservations about him and his party?

Kat, I'm just pointing out that it's not the minors that are going down, it's the majors. Your guess that National's fall is probably to the Conservatives and Labour's to the Greens and NZF seems reasonable. But you can't say that the Nats have dropped six points since 2011. They've dropped about six points in each campaign but been very strong in between.

by Jane Beezle on September 05, 2014
Jane Beezle

"The wisdom of the commentators is that there wouldn't be room for both of them to get five percent".

1996 - NZF win 13.35% of party vote.

2002 - NZF win 10.38% of party vote.

OK, in outyears there have been some "severe maulings" (quote from wikipedia).  But Winston hunts in the provinces and the rest homes.  An awful lot of people like the politics of the boy from Whananaki.

by tussock on September 06, 2014

Why didn't Key set Craig up? Let me count the reasons.

1: The Conservatives are insane. The policies, not just the rhetoric. Even for the Nats.

2: They polled, and he wouldn't win anyway. It's not Epsom, people would rebel.

3: They get half his seats even if he gets 4.5%. There's not actually a lot of room to gain by the deal. Setting up a seat for ACT works better if it's an overhang.

4: Supporting crazy people, for a narrow gain, at real policy costs that can be used to attack you, that drives voters to NZF or Labour, that's a huge risk. Cup of tea, anyone? No thanks.

5: Seriously, have you read their policies? National are rabid market freedoms and giving rich people more of the money types. Colin Craig wants direct democracy and much more state intervention in everything except strait white people with kids.

6: OK, he's closer to the Nats than Mana. If only that was an argument. They'd clearly rather be in government with the Greens.

by Richard Aston on September 08, 2014
Richard Aston

Frustrating though Winstone's lack of clear collaliation signal I think Kat may have a point . "Winston keeps his independent stance intact and his options seemingly open. That is the attraction of NZ First."

Following that logic Winstone has no interested in those voters looking for a national or labour party partner and is sticking to his core "brand" message of a independant who will "keep the buggers honest" . 

Sadly most seem to forget thats just an election message , not sure that in all his time in Parliment he has actually "kept the buggers honest" .  

by Richard Aston on September 08, 2014
Richard Aston

As for the conservatives , if I was Key - oh a cold shiver went through my body at the thought - I'd would be keeping them at a some distance , they are wildly inexperianced and as Tussock says are insane to a degree . Hard do the loony left one liner while embrassing the loony right . 

Then there is the other side, the unthinking voter - bless em  ; we all think a lot about the different parties, policies and coalition possibilities but a lot of people don't think about it much at all. "He's a nice man " , " he will keep them honest" , "they know business" etc 



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