Winston ready to rain on Craig's parade
HAMISH RUTHERFORD AND STACEY KIRK
A head-to-head battle between New Zealand's two most divisive politicians is brewing, as Winston Peters threatens to gatecrash any deal National may offer Colin Craig.
Yesterday Peters gave his clearest hint yet that if National decide not to stand a candidate in East Coast Bays - a move designed to help Craig's Conservative Party into Parliament, that he is prepared to stand in the electorate.
Speculation has been mounting for weeks that if the Conservatives can build enough support to bring several MPs into Parliament if the party wins a seat, long-time East Coast Bays MP Murray McCully would stand aside for Craig.
But Peters said he had been repeatedly approached about standing there and he would not rule it out.
"You've got political parties who think they can mess around with an electorate... They might do that [but] they might be in for a surprise in one of them if they do pull that stunt," Peters said.
Both parties were holding their annual conferences in Auckland this weekend, with NZ First celebrating its 21st birthday at Alexandra Park, where it was formed in 1993.
Craig, who yesterday told the Conservative conference that he would not enter a coalition with National unless it signed up to binding referendums, was dismissive of Peters' warning.
"I think he did some similar sort of signalling last election, I think it's a game actually," Craig said.
"I don't think he would, and I'm not at all worried if he does."
Asked where Peters would place in a race in the electorate, Craig was confident.
"Behind me, no question about that. Our polling is Murray McCully's got 30-odd per cent already, I've got 15 per cent and nearly 40 per cent undecided. I don't think Winston Peters would get anywhere near what I'd get."
Craig said his own popularity was beginning to outrank Peters among Grey Power members.
"I'm getting some big turnouts to Grey Powers, bigger than he is. And I think he's got fair right to be concerned. We're a young, growing party and I think we're closing in on him."
Peters said it was "nonsense" that he had promised to stand in East Coast Bays in 2011. He said that in 2011 Craig had claimed that his polling was showing he would win Rodney. However, in the end, he was defeated by more than 12,000 votes by Mark Mitchell, who was standing in his first election.
He was unfazed by Craig's financial muscle, saying NZ First had "grassroots" support and said the Conservative Party's resources made no difference in 2011.
"Last election it was 40 cents a vote we spent. Some spent $35 a vote. That's my response to that," he said.
Asked about a head-to-head battle, Peters said the two parties could not be compared.
"It's hardly going head to head. I mean, we're experienced, we're qualified, we know what we're doing and we've got a record of winning. What's theirs? Lost every campaign they've been in."
Asked if he could work in Government with the Conservatives, Peters dismissed Craig's chances.
"It's a non-issue. They won't make it."
WHICH WAY WILL WINSTON GO?
- Sunday Star Times