Liam Hehir writes about Colin Craig and his Pyrrhic crusades:
In the third century BC, a Greek king named Pyrrhus invaded Italy to assist the city state of Tarentum in a conflict against a rising power known as Rome. King Pyrrhus won the first battle decisively, largely due to the shattering deployment of war elephants against the Roman infantry. Pyrrhus marched northwards.
By the time of the second encounter, however, the Romans had devised tactics and weapons to counter the elephants. The invaders still won the battle, but at the price of devastating casualties. When congratulated by his officers on his victory, Pyrrhus answered: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”
Is Colin Craig familiar with this famous chapter from history? Perhaps he sees himself playing the part of Romans – indefatigable, unfazed by short-term defeat and ultimately victorious. To outside observers, however, his Conservative Party adventures have all the hallmarks of a Pyrrhic victory.
I once had a sales manager who often asked “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is one bite at a time…and that is how I approach everything including Colin Craig. The other saying I use is “Bite off more than you can chew…and chew like fuck”.
Craig founded the party, lavished millions upon it and made himself into its public face. What has been the return on that investment? As at the last election, he got a lot of ridicule and contempt from a hostile media and no seats in Parliament. In the year since, he has added to those failures an unwinnable feud with blogger Cameron Slater, severe damage to the cause of political conservatism and a battle for control of the party that seems to have exposed the organisation to be little more than his personal play-thing.
But imagine if the Conservative Party had cracked the 5 per cent threshold last year, won some form of participation in government and managed to keep a lid on internal controversies. In this best-case scenario, what could Craig have achieved?
I don’t think National would have agreed to overturn the smacking ban. Nor would it have agreed to reverse the gay marriage law. I don’t think it would even have agreed to lessen the power of Parliament through binding citizens-initiated referendums.
National maintains power by remaining firmly in the centre of New Zealand politics. This does not actually involve doing things that are popular. To a greater extent, it means actively avoiding things that will be socially divisive. It means that National rarely initiates contentious social legislation – and nor does it look to reopen past battles.