Fringe parties look for deals
Frank Lockey doesn't pay much attention to what Colin Craig says. He has no particular interest in his policies. But yes, he'd cast an electorate vote for Craig in the September election if necessary.
"He's probably a bit way-out, but if John Key thinks that it will help to have him there to keep the current government in power, I'll go along with what John Key thinks."
Lockey, 82, is president of the Browns Bay Bowling Club on Auckland's North Shore. He's a retired seafood wholesaler and can tell an anecdote about the parallels between Rob Muldoon and Bluff oysters ("which shows how long I've been around").
On Thursday, between intermittent showers, he was happy to explain why he'd happily become a tactical voter.
In the next few days, the East Coast Bays electorate will find out whether or not it's going to be the new Epsom - a seat where voters are urged by National Party leadership to give their electorate vote to a candidate from a completely different party in order to exploit the quirks of MMP.
The idea is that National's sitting MP Murray McCully sacrifices East Coast Bays (don't shed a tear; he'll still get into Parliament as a list MP) and when Craig wins the seat he supports a National-led coalition - the same sort of deal that has kept ACT clinging to the Epsom electorate.
In Epsom, National runs a candidate but tells voters, with a wink and a nod, to vote for ACT instead. Craig wants an even better deal: he's hoping McCully will take himself off the ballot paper entirely, a concept Key has described as "extreme".
Key's decision on whether to indulge the supplicant or not (which he's promised to reveal this week) depends partly on how desperately National needs an extra seat.
But last weekend, the calculation grew more complex: NZ First leader Winston Peters hinted that if National and the Conservatives got cute in East Coast Bays, he might run in the electorate himself. And given the old rogue's mysterious allure, this could stuff things up for National and Craig.
With Craig's Conservative Party last week polling nationally at 1.3 per cent, this is his only serious option for making it to Parliament.
A quick and dirty assessment by the Sunday Star-Times suggests things aren't a great deal better in the electorate itself.
On Friday afternoon we set up an informal polling booth at Browns Bay's La Tropezienne bakery/cafe, in which customers were given a marble and invited to drop it in the jar of their preferred candidate.
By yesterday afternoon, 53 marbles had been cast: 34 for McCully, seven for Peters and just one for Craig.
Six, four and one marble respectively were cast for Labour's Greg Milner-White, Green Teresa Moore and "other".
The result is horribly unscientific, yet the figure for McCully is startlingly similar to McCully's 64.98 per cent electoral result in 2011, and that single marble for Craig is - well, a little tragic.
Cafe manager Emma Bouquet said the marble poll had been mildly controversial: husbands and wives had argued over which jar to drop their marble in.
So Craig clearly needs a helping hand. The big question for National though, is this: are its supporters in the East Coast Bays ready to be tactical soldiers and lay their votes on the line?
McCully's electorate office is just off the main drag of Browns Bay, less than a kilometre from the bowls club, so Lockey occasionally catches sight of his MP in the street.
But the national picture matters more to Lockey than electoral duties. He'll do whatever it takes to keep the likes of Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira from getting a sniff of power. So yes, he'll gladly vote the way Key asks him to. "He'd have to give the directive. I wouldn't do it off my own bat."
Around the electorate, though, not all National supporters think the same way as Lockey.
From the wide sands of Long Bay beach in the north, to Browns Bay's Speakers Corner pub where the ales and the accents are mostly English, to the hustling caryards of Wairau Valley, there was strong support for National, much less for Craig, and mixed feelings about tactical voting.
"Craig is not my kind of guy", said Henk Berkman, 49, a Dutch-born professor of finance, walking his dogs at Long Bay. Berkman is politically centrist, but will vote National "mainly because of the lack of credibility of the other parties".
He wouldn't vote for Craig even if Key begged him. "It's playing games - and that doesn't seem to be the original intention of MMP." Plus he's been unimpressed by reports of Craig's offbeat views: "I think man did land on the Moon!"
Jenny Mitchell, 45, a Humane Society worker walking a couple of chihuahua-crosses, didn't recognise Craig's name, mugshot or
party. "The only thing I know is about David Cunliffe - everyone seems to think he's a dork." She'll vote National. She wasn't aware of tactical voting but sees no problem with it.
Craig "opens his mouth a bit too much," says Arthur Cooper, 58, who lives in Torbay and sells cars at Wheels on Wairau. "I was never going to vote for him."
Cooper supports National - but mainly because Jenny Shipley was in power when he arrived here from South Africa in 1997, "and you have allegiance for the ones who let you into the country".
At a pinch Cooper would consider voting tactically for Craig but only if it looked like National were truly desperate for the help.
The East Coast Bays are a great place to live, a great place to raise kids. The safe, sandy beaches are among the loveliest in Auckland. Incomes are relatively high, and house prices match.
According to the Parliament website's electorate profile, 14 of its 19 schools are decile 10, and none are below decile 7. Some 46 per cent of its 60,000-odd residents were born abroad - a quarter of the new arrivals are from the British Isles and another quarter from Asia. Recent years have seen decent numbers of arrivals from South Africa too.
Due to vagaries of electoral layouts, East Coast Bays also has a small appendix in the Wairau Valley to the southwest - a slightly more down-at-heel area, abutting Glenfield, packed with caryards and furniture and appliance stores. The electorate is safe, polite, conservative - arguably a bit boring if you want more from life than safety, suburbia and swimming.
Like most North Shore residents, East Coast Bays people are used to shrugging off the low-grade sneering of Aucklanders from the other side of the bridge, who like to snicker at a supposed lack of "culture", decent restaurants and ethnic diversity. (Declaration of interest: this journalist grew up in Torbay and now lives just outside the electorate's border.)
This, then, is solid National territory. The Nats took 63 per cent of the party vote in 2011. Labour picked up 17 per cent, the Greens took 8 per cent and NZ First a shade under 5 per cent.
McCully has been the boss here since 1987 (including 1996-2002, when it was temporarily subsumed by the Albany electorate). But the Bays have had their politically adventurous moments. From 1980 to 1987, at a time when it was virtually impossible for a minor party to win a seat, it was held by Gary Knapp, from the economically innovative Social Credit party.
Craig hopes some of that experimental spirit will make tactical voting a success. "It's an electorate that's quite intelligent. They're prepared to think outside the box."
He grew up around here. Browns Bay is "his" beach. The Albany Mall and Pak'nSave (not quite inside the electorate, but near enough) are "his" shops. He reckons the East Coast Bays shares his values. "I'm a social conservative. I like family. I like marriage. I like law and order. I like armed forces. I like good behaviour. These are core values that most people living in East Coast Bays share with me."
That's little use, though, without that nod from Key. Have they talked directly about a deal yet?
"No. I have no more idea whether they will or won't make some sort of accommodation than anybody else."
Crikey. Is he at least hoping for a heads-up before Key makes a public statement. "I actually don't know. I have no idea if there is any sort of protocol around this."
If Key says no deal, Craig says he won't give up. "Maybe circumstances will prevent me from winning it this time but even if I don't, I want to set myself up to guarantee I get it next time."
Commentators differ over whether Peters' threat to run is credible, and what impact it might have if carried out. All the same, the people of East Coast Bays know Peters' name and face better than Craig's.
At the bowling club, Frank Lockey loathes him. At Wheels on Wairau Arthur Cooper grins at the mere sight of Peters' mugshot. "I love the man. He's got personality." On Long Bay beach, Peters' is the only mugshot Jenny Mitchell recognises.
On Friday, Peters himself was cagey about his plans, refusing even to acknowledge that his public statements of the past week amounted to a hint he might stand. All will be revealed in early August, he said, "and we're not concerned with any other party's timetables".
Peters was more talkative on the subject of Craig's party though. Sure, some of Craig's policies are aimed at the kind of folk who vote NZ First, but Peters can take it.
"Let me tell you an old John Wayne story. It's one thing to steal a man's horse outside the saloon. It's another thing to try to stay on its back riding out of town."
McCully, speaking from his seat in a plane just about to take of from East Timor, was even less forthcoming than Peters. What does he make of Craig?
"I've never got into providing character analysis of my opponents and I don't intend to start now."
Will he fall on his sword if asked to by Key?
"I can only refer you to the public statements the Prime Minister has made. He's been clear that his view has always been that I'll do whatever he asked me to do."
We'll take that as a "yes".
Would it be sad for him to give up his long-held seat?
"I've been in this area for a long time; and worked pretty hard at it . . I've got a pretty strong attachment to my electorate."
We'll take that as a "maybe".
Sunday Star Times