The Conservative Party has emerged as a possible alternative support partner for National as pressure mounts on under-fire Act leader John Banks.
The Sunday Star-Times can reveal that National Party president Peter Goodfellow is seeking out Conservative leader Colin Craig.
Goodfellow has never met the North Shore millionaire – and last week asked the Star-Times for his phone number. "Maybe I should [talk to him]," he said.
Banks is refusing to quit as a minister over the Kim Dotcom donations scandal and Prime Minister John Key is standing by him.
But police are investigating the alleged breach of local electoral laws and if convicted Banks would have to step down, forcing a by-election in Epsom.
Speculation is rife that National is concerned it is being tainted by association with the increasingly toxic Act Party and is seriously eyeing Craig's fledgling party.
A senior Beehive source suggested that Act was a spent force and National would be looking for other partners for 2014.
And late last week David Farrar, National's influential pollster, judged the 18-year-old party "clinically dead" in a column titled "RIP ACT".
National insiders have denied claims by NZ First leader Winston Peters they are polling in Epsom.
Goodfellow last week said the party was happy with Key's handling of the scandal and said it was right to stand by Banks. But he indicated he was willing to talk with Craig – whose right-wing party got a 2.65 per cent share of the party vote in November.
Although founded as recently as July, the Conservative Party has around 3000 members. It initially sucked support from Act, but since the election has been drawing members from the socially conservative Pasifika community.
Craig, who ran against Banks in the 2010 mayoralty race and funded his own campaign, is confident he can win an electorate seat in 2014. But he is refusing to do an Epsom-style deal with any party until after the results are in.
His stance is an attractive prospect to voters sickened by deals struck between Act and Key over cups of tea. He said National Party members – including Key's electorate chair Stephen McElrea – have been turning up to Conservative Party public meetings.
Craig said he is ready to fight a by-election.
"John Banks' general popularity was the reason I didn't run in Epsom in the first place."
And if he won: "Of course we'd talk to National, we just have to find the common ground that we could work together on."
Craig said he was happy to talk "socially" to Goodfellow and gave the Star-Times permission to pass his number to Goodfellow. He has had two "sit downs" with Key previously and said: "The only one [party leader] I haven't met is Russel Norman. Maybe I should get his number too."
Craig said there were differences between his party and Key's – specifically Craig does not support the sale of Crafar farms to Chinese interests – but said that wouldn't prevent a working relationship.
"Yes, there are differences, but they are not insurmountable" he said. "Our starting point if elected to Parliament would be a discussion with National, as the party that received the most support in 2011. There is certainly common ground where we are able to work together."
- © Fairfax NZ News