Conservative leader Colin Craig's bid for a safe seat has struck a hurdle, with another National MP digging his heels in and voters calling him a "wacko".
Craig is hoping for a deal with National to give him a free run at one of three seats on Auckland's North Shore in September's election.
He said last week he expected the Conservative Party, currently polling around 1.5 per cent and well below the threshold for seats in Parliament, would be thrown a lifeline: "I think National will stand aside somewhere."
East Coast Bays looms as his top option, and there are rumours that the sitting MP, Foreign Minister Murray McCully, may be offered a diplomatic post to ease him out.
But it seems no-one's told the voters in the electorate yet and McCully told the Sunday Star-Times he would rather "saw off his arm with a rusty screwdriver" than take a diplomatic post.
Prime Minister John Key has said he will announce his position on deals with three parties; ACT in Epsom, UnitedFuture in Ohariu and the yet-to-be-specified Conservative seat; at one time.
But Key is clearly less enthusiastic about a deal for Craig, and senior National figures suggest that it could depend on how strongly the Conservatives poll nationwide leading up to the election.
At their current support level a high-ranking minister suggested Fairfax should "not bet the ranch" on a deal to ease the way for Craig.
McCully said yesterday he had no intention of stepping aside. "I am the National Party candidate for East Coast Bays and intend to campaign to win the seat."
Asked if he would soft-pedal or withdraw if Key asked him to, he did a partial sidestep.
"I won't answer that question, but what I will say is leaders and boards do sometimes make strategic decisions and caucus members need to understand that.
"But I have not been asked to consider any of those issues. I have had no suggestion made to me that the leader and the board would put me in that position . . . other than from the news media, who I regard as unreliable correspondents in this respect," he said.
"I'm not saying I'm open to it. I'm saying that we need to understand that leaders and boards can make strategic decisions from time to time but I've had no suggestion they're in the process of doing so . . . in my seat."
Craig's preferred option is that National withdraw its candidate completely from the seat he stands in.
McCully said he was tired of rumours that a diplomatic post was in the offing.
"I would rather saw off my left arm with a rusty screwdriver than be an ambassador anywhere. And I'm very attached to my left arm. Straight up, why would I want to do that? How would that ease the pain? I have never had any interest at all in a diplomatic appointment."
He said he had met Craig, who lives in his electorate, but he declined to give a view of him. "I've never given personal assessments of colleagues or opponents, and I wouldn't want to start now."
But McCully says he has had "direct and colourful feedback from my constituents" on the subject of Craig.
"I've never felt so popular as a local member since the news media started campaigning for my removal." His message to them was that he intended to stick around.
Meanwhile, an unscientific sampling of East Coast Bays voters suggests they are largely unaware and uninterested in Craig's bid to move into the safe National seat. Out of 30 people surveyed on Clyde Road, central Browns Bay, last week, only two said they would vote for Craig if he stood in the electorate, while 22 people said they had never heard of him.
Six out of eight people who knew of Craig and his party's policies said they did not want to vote for him for a range of reasons including his right-wing views, religious values and the fact he was funnelling a huge amount of money into his political campaign.
Mark Pratt, 67, said he had traditionally voted for National but even if he was supporting National by getting Craig to secure the numbers at the election he still wouldn't vote Conservative.
"I don't believe in them," he said. "Generally, I think their ideas are wacko."
Of Craig's two would-be supporters, one said they would vote for him reluctantly. "I may do, if it gave National a better chance of forming government but I'm generally not inclined to vote Conservative," Brent Large, 70, said.
The other, Sarb Lester, 40, said she didn't know Craig but had voted Conservative last election and would do so again "because my husband does".
She offered Craig some advice if he does stand in the seat: "Get out there a bit more, maybe have a leaflet or information about what you can do for the community."
Many said they wanted McCully to stay on because he was a familiar face. "He's been here for years."
Others were unhappy at the prospect of a new politician coming in, and were wary of the amount of money Craig was spending, comparing him to Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom.
"He's an unknown quantity," Jacqui, 81, said. "I wouldn't vote for him because I just don't know if he's the right fit." Nine of the 30 said they did not vote at all.
Craig said yesterday that while he was polling in East Coast Bays, he had not begun major campaign work in the area. He expected to announce where he would stand at the party's campaign launch next week. Craig said he would not talk to Key about a deal until after he announced his electorate.
"I have some people who think that we should be carrying on a negotiation with National, but we said we wouldn't and we won't."
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2011
EAST COAST BAYS
Individual vote Murray McCully (National) 21,094 Simonne Dyer (Conservative) 1614
Party vote National 62.86 per cent Conservatives 3.74 per cent.
Individual vote Mark Mitchell (National) 20,253 Colin Craig (Conservative) 12,222
Party vote National 62.15 per cent Conservative 6.38 per cent
A new seat in 2014 seen as safe for National's Social Development Minister Paula Bennett
- Sunday Star Times
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