Conservatives a vanity project

CHRIS TROTTER
Last updated 08:52 26/11/2013
Colin Craig
Fairfax NZ
COLIN CRAIG: The Conservatives, favouring binding referendums, don't really intend to function as a political party.

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Chris Trotter

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OPINION: If the Conservative Party were a book we'd call it a vanity publication. Born of successful Auckland businessman Colin Craig's decision to enter politics, it was never meant to be anything more than a reliable vehicle for its creator's messianic ambitions.

At the 2011 general election, Craig's Conservatives outspent the Labour Party by more than $100,000. In spite of this lavish expenditure ($1.8 million) the party garnered just 59,237 votes (2.7 per cent). Putting that another way: Craig and his followers spent a staggering $13.71 for every Conservative Party vote.

Now, in other circumstances, that information would probably have been filed under "A fool and his money are soon parted". But in the political circumstances of 2013, Craig's 2.7 per cent of the party vote is not so easily dismissed.

Not when the Prime Minister, John Key, fears losing the 2014 election because his government's current support parties attract insufficient support to carry him across the finish line.

What the prime minister needs is a new support party - one with much more electoral energy than the largely spent political forces currently keeping him in office.

Enter, Stage Right, the Conservative Party.

If Craig could somehow be assured of winning an electorate seat, he would, on current polling figures, bring with him up to four additional MPs. That would more than compensate for any decline in the parliamentary contingents of ACT, United Future and the Maori Party.

Small wonder, then, that over the past week or so the prime minister has been doing his best to talk up Craig's self-published electoral book.

If enough "punters out there in Punterland" (as Key's predecessor, Don Brash, dubbed the electorate) can be persuaded to vote Conservative, Key's electoral bacon may yet he saved.

This prime-ministerial promotion of Colin Craig raises a number of disturbing questions about the health of New Zealand's democracy.

Not the least of these is why a responsible prime minister, the leader of one of New Zealand's oldest political parties, would make the slightest effort to encourage Craig's political ambitions?

The Conservative Party is Craig's personal creation, and like the creations of the Christian God he worships, it bears a more than passing resemblance to its maker.

Now, were Craig blessed with the wisdom of Jehovah that would be no bad thing, but, alas, Craig is very far from being the fount of all wisdom. On the contrary, both he and his party present an amalgam of some of the least respectable political ideas on offer.

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It is Craig's view that parents should be at liberty to assault their own children. That all citizens should possess firearms and be entitled to use them with deadly effect against intruders. That our daughters are the most promiscuous in the world. That anthropogenic global warming is neither a significant, nor even likely, cause of climate change. That homosexual attraction is a matter of personal choice. The list, lamentably, goes on and on.

A noxious political potpourri uplifted from the more disreputable elements of the American Religious Right.

Why would a responsible, 21st-century New Zealand prime minister have anything to do with a person whose political philosophy is so antiquated that calling it "medieval" would pay it an unwarranted compliment?

Were the Conservative Party the legitimate offspring of New Zealand's long- standing conservative traditions; and were it peopled by ordinary, decent defenders of the values and institutions upon which New Zealand was founded and which have underpinned her prosperity, then the prospect of it entering into a workable political alliance with the National Party's nascent liberalism would not be in the least bit daunting.

But the prime minister knows that Colin Craig's Conservative Party is no such thing.

Indeed, if Craig is to be believed, his creation isn't really intended to conduct itself as a political party at all. The Conservatives' role, rather, is to facilitate government by binding citizens-initiated referendums.

Can it really be the case the National Party is contemplating an electoral alliance, even entering into a governing coalition, with the vanity project of a man seriously advocating abolishing our representative form of government and its replacement with the crudest form of plebiscitary democracy?

Has Key not asked himself why Craig favours government by referendum? Does he not see that it is by such means that the Conservative leader hopes to erect a system which renders impotent all the virtues of parliamentary discussion and debate; all the persuasive power of social and scientific research; all the sage advice and collective wisdom of the many interest groups and institutions that comprise our pluralistic society?

Craig's Conservatives intend to bring our representative democracy to book. The book which Craig has written.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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