MMP coat-tailing rule a farce

MICHAEL CUMMINGS - EDITOR
Last updated 12:00 30/07/2014
Colin Craig
DAVID WHITE/Fairfax NZ
AMBITIOUS: Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.

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Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has been the centre of much intrigue and attention as the general election approaches, but it appears his rising star has been well and truly extinguished.

Prime Minister John Key this week ruled out entering into an electoral accommodation with the Conservatives, effectively putting paid to any realistic hopes the party had of entering parliament for the first time.

Polling at just 1-2 per cent, Craig desperately needed Key to throw him a life line in the Auckland seat of East Coast Bays by encouraging National supporters to give their electorate vote to the Conservative leader.

After looking at it from every angle, Key decided the opportunities in doing so outweighed the risks. It's difficult to fault his decision.

The Conservatives' polling a few weeks out from the election is just too low for the prime minister to take a gamble on an unknown and unpredictable quantity like Craig. Even if Craig was given a clear run in East Coast Bays, there's no guarantee the Conservatives would attract enough party votes nationally to bring any extra MPs into parliament. Voters considering supporting the Conservatives now face the very real prospect of casting a wasted ballot. While Craig has been left out in the cold, Key is happy to throw a lifeline to ACT in Epsom and UnitedFuture in Ohariu by encouraging National voters to support the minor parties' candidates in those electorates.

He deserves some credit for being upfront with voters about his preferences, but the transparency doesn't change the fact that last year National cynically disregarded the Electoral Commission's recommendation to ditch MMP's coat-tailing provision, which has enabled ACT and UnitedFuture to prop up the Government.

The bottom line is that the public, overwhelmingly, wants this backdoor to parliament closed, and National is keeping it open to serve its own self-interest. Our democracy, no matter which political part one supports, is the poorer for it.

So, ACT and UnitedFuture - parties that barely register a blip of public support - will likely return to Parliament and have an outsized influence on who forms the next Government, while the Conservatives, who enjoy much more support than ACT and UnitedFuture combined, remain on the outer.

The prime minister's transparency this week only underscores that farce.

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