Craig politics - nice and nutty

COLIN CRAIG: Conservatives have hopes for an Auckland seat.
COLIN CRAIG: Conservatives have hopes for an Auckland seat.

On Friday, Colin Craig threw seven of his employees a party.

He took advantage of a sunny Auckland afternoon to mark their birthdays, which all fell in the last fortnight, with a barbecue, cake and beers.

That's the thing. He's a nice man. Colin Craig in the flesh is markedly different from the barking mad, fundamentalist portrayed in the media. He's mild-mannered, ridiculously polite, curiously endearing and geeky in a Don Brash way.

He does say and do rather daft things. Like when he referred to powhiri as a bare-bottomed native making threatening gestures and the legalisation of gay marriage as a failure of democracy. Or that time he had 20,000 leaflets sent to John Key's Helensville constituents claiming locals said the Prime Minister was too gay to be their MP.

The thing is, these outrageous gestures and statements get him on the telly.

During his three years in the political wilderness, NZ First leader Winston Peters struggled to get even half the airtime Craig received during the gay marriage debate.

Craig has largely bank-rolled the party, and without a parliamentary budget, he must work hard to raise his profile.

Up until now, Craig has not done much to counter the view that the Conservatives are a Christian party. Now he is more vociferous because he realises religion offers only a limited support base and is off-putting to others. You can't get past the fact it normally turns out badly, he says.

His list was thrown together in the few months between the formation of the party and the 2011 election. Next time it will be heavier on business representation, which could be bad news for former Christian MP Larry Baldock and the other Kiwi Party members he brought with him.

Craig is also very clear that he doesn't want the kind of cup of tea deal that National stitched up with ACT in Epsom. He would prefer National to send a clear signal by not running in the electorate he stands in.

That may also work rather well for Key. He has already indicated he wants to be more transparent with voters. In the New Year, Parliament will debate a members bill, proposed by Labour, to do away with coat-tailing and lower the threshold for list representation to four per cent. National would be in a rather awkward position if it was seen to be doing cynical deals while the issue is high on the political agenda.

With his current coalition parties in a sorry decline, Key is trapped between a Peters-shaped rock and a hard place, occupied by Craig.

A coalition deal with Peters is a rather bitter pill to swallow, particularly given all that Key has said about the veteran politician in the past.

Peters has also demonstrated this term that he is not going to make it easy for Key. Humiliated over Key's snubs, he proved just how refractory he can be during negotiations over National's new spying laws.

The problem for Key is that Craig is untested. So far, all the signals point to him being nuttier than squirrel poo. Craig must now prove that he can firstly pull in the votes, and secondly, won't make unreasonable demands when in Government.