Craig unfazed by PM's snub

22:34, Jul 28 2014

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig is staying positive in the face of what many are calling a deathblow dealt by National.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday raised the stakes for the coming election by ruling out an electoral deal to give Craig an easy ride into Parliament via the East Coast Bays seat.

The decision delivers what may be the coup de grace to Craig's Conservative Party and puts NZ First leader Winston Peters back in contention for a possible government role.

In an MMP first, Key delivered an unequivocal statement about which parties - ACT, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party - National wanted its supporters to give a leg-up into Parliament by giving them their electorate vote.

Craig said today he wasn't fazed that he was not one of those on the list.

"We didn't ask for a deal, and we specifically said we didn't want one, but clearly National thought about it," he said on Firstline today.

"I mean their [the parties nominated by Key] very existence depends really on National helping them over the line. Even then, I don't know that they're certainties.

"I am very comfortable that we will do well this election."

Key was also clear about which parties he could work with in government - including NZ First, which he had ruled out working with at the last two elections.

Key said voters in Epsom should give their electorate vote to ACT, while in Ohariu National supporters should back UnitedFuture's Peter Dunne. However, National would stand a candidate in both electorates so voters had a choice.

Key also encouraged National supporters enrolled on the Maori roll to give their votes to the Maori Party candidate, and made it clear ACT, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party would all be part of the next government if National was in a position to put one together.

Key also said he could work constructively with NZ First, and while it was "extremely unlikely" Peters would ever be part of his Cabinet, he would not rule it out.

But while National says it can also work with the Conservatives, Key quashed any prospect of Craig elbowing his way into Parliament after ruling out a deal in East Coast Bays.

Today, Key said the problem with the Conservatives was the way in which Craig wanted any potential deal to operate.

"It was really that we wouldn't run a candidate there, and that makes life very tricky for us," the prime minister said on Firstline.

"Because firstly it doesn't give National voters a choice.

"Even in a place like Epsom and Ohariu, we're giving National voters a choice. We're certainly saying we think tactical voting might make sense, giving your electorate vote to [ACT's] David Seymour for instance, but giving your party vote to National.

"But that wouldn't have been the case in East Coast Bays. Secondly, it wouldn't have stopped somebody else standing so it wouldn't necessarily have meant Colin Craig would have gotten through."

Key said he was also concerned a situation could arise where National voters in East Coast Bays gave their electorate vote to the Labour candidate and their party vote to National.

There was no way for Craig to win without National's candidate, long-time MP and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, pulling out, Key said.

That was "a bridge too far".

Shutting the door on a guaranteed Conservative Party presence is risky. On present polling, National would not need the Conservatives or NZ First but the parlous state of its other allies could put the result on a knife edge if the gap between National and parties on the Left narrows.

But a string of negative headlines about Craig's views on everything from Moon landings to homosexuality risked turning any deal toxic for National, particularly among its female supporters.

Electorate deals are not new for National, but it has increasingly courted public opprobrium after stunts like the infamous "cup of tea" with ACT's John Banks leading into the last election turned into farce. The cup of tea was supposed to signal to voters which way they should vote without categorically stating National's preference.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the deals were a "manipulation" of MMP.

"I think New Zealanders are saddened by it and want to line up behind the party of their choice, and know that the party vote for that party will be helping form a government," he said on Morning Report.

"What we're saying, the best way, and in fact the only way, to change the government and get a fresh start is a party vote for Labour.

"We've been really straight up and plain about it, which is a party vote for Labour changes the government." But he was reluctant to say if Labour would be campaigning to give National candidate Paul Goldsmith the electorate vote in Epsom, to try and edge out the ACT party.

"I haven't made any statements about that as far as I can recall," he said. "I want every party vote for Labour that I can get - every party vote for Labour because a party vote for Labour will change the government." Only when he was pressed further, did Cunliffe say: "Vote for the Labour Party and the Labour candidate, thank you very much".

Key said Cunliffe's claims he was manipulating the electoral system with deals for minor parties was "silly".

"The Labour Party is  about to try and form a Government if they can with the Internet-Mana Party that's got exactly the same thing going on - a deal taking place."

He said Labour also did similar things to his deals with the Alliance and the Greens in the past.

Voters knew MMP pretty well and they certainly knew MMP would make coalitions likely.

"What more can I do than be up front and honest with people and say this is the likely grouping that makes sense."


He said Labour should rule out Internet-Mana if they wanted to be consistent.

Key said "truthfully probably like any leader of the  Opposition, when you are leader of the Opposition you are desperate to become prime minister and pretty much do anything. He's in the camp of forming an alliance with anybody if that would get him over the line".

Key agreed that if he was in the same position he wouldn't rule Internet-Mana out, adding ''I wouldn't also criticise the National Party for doing essentially exactly the same thing".

He said it was not plausible that the collection of parties and individuals on the centre-Left could be a serious government and hold it together for three years.