Colin Craig’s best hope…and it isn’t Rodney

Hamish Rutherford write at Fairfax about Colin Craig’s best hope…and it isn’t Rodney electorate.

As one National MP noted, for Colin Craig to win one of the electorates he has highlighted ?he would virtually have to have National not stand a candidate’.

Mark Mitchell may not have meant it that way but Wednesday’s dismissal of Colin Craig may simply have said what many National Party MPs may have been thinking for some time.

The Rodney MP, a former policeman and hostage negotiator, caused a minor stir when he initially batted off questions of whether he would step aside to allow Craig a free run, as a matter for the prime minister.

Later that day, as the comment was taken as a sign of an impending deal, Mitchell had clearly grown frustrated, quoting the lovable protagonist from The Castle as he dismissed Craig’s chances of pushing him aside.

“Tell him he’s dreamin’.”

Last election Craig pushed his dodgy polls that said he was in front in Rodney, and Mark Mitchell still spanked him by 12,000 votes. The biggest supporters of Colin Craig anywhere are those who have never met him.

With Mitchell the most junior of the National candidates in the three seats, and Craig standing in Rodney in 2011, attention naturally turned initially to Mitchell. But Rodney is more likely to provide a lesson on just what is required to assist Craig into Parliament than it is to be the new Conservative headquarters.

When voters were last given the choice between the two, with Mitchell largely an unknown and Craig running an expensive campaign, the decision was emphatic. Mitchell won by more than 12,000 votes.

Although the back benches of Parliament have hardly raised Mitchell’s profile nationwide, three years on there is little to suggest that Rodney voters will be more likely to push for the Conservatives this time.

That fact may frame the thinking on a deal with Craig: a cup of tea with the prime minister may not be enough if Mitchell is on the ballot.

Mark is well liked in Rodney, and Colin isn’t, it is that simple…and rural based seats like a bloke who can ride rodeo, hunt with dogs, and knock over ratbags. They are not so enamoured with a skinny guy in an ill fitting suit who believes in chemtrails and that the moon landings were fake.

Set aside for a moment Craig’s comments about chemtrails and Moon landings. There is little evidence to suggest that New Zealanders are still debating parents’ right to physically discipline their children.

And even for those who see smacking as a major issue for the election, you are left with a man who, in the minds of voters, has no idea whether the Moon landing took place and has no position on whether jumbo jets’ vapour is being used to control the public.

On Monday, Key himself said Epsom voters, while overwhelmingly National supporters, were willing to split their vote to an extent that sometimes even surprised the National Party itself.

As one National MP in a safe Auckland seat noted this week, for Craig to win one of the electorates he has highlighted “he would virtually have to have National not stand a candidate”.

If Mitchell is asked to step aside now, especially after this week’s statements, it will be a massive loss of face for a new backbench MP. The humiliation would be even worse for frontbencher Paula Bennett, the candidate for Upper Harbour and National’s working-class hero.

Mitchell won’t step aside, and even if he did the locals won’t have a bar of it. Mitchell is no Reek.

For Murray McCully, the MP for East Coast Bays since 1987, the equation is quite different.

The current theory circulating around Parliament – albeit one apparently denied by McCully himself – is that the foreign minister will announce he is withdrawing from the race for East Coast Bays, and do so so close to the election that National will not have time to pick another candidate.

Were National to replace McCully, there is a risk that voters may not take the hint, whatever Key says, especially if Labour voters voted tactically.

Such a move is unlikely to mean a departure from Parliament for McCully, with the foreign minister likely to echo Clutha-Southland MP Bill English, who said last year that the work of finance minister made it impossible to properly represent his electorate.

Already trotting the globe, McCully has added duties as New Zealand runs an expensive campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Those who engage with the foreign minister say there is little sign he is losing interest in his job, and he has been driving changes to the staffing in his office in recent months in a way that suggests he does not expect this year to be his last.

But the drums are beating louder and louder for McCully, who would be unwise to not be thinking about a life beyond Parliament, or even beyond the September 20 election.

His chances of a plum international job in the future are much stronger with Key as prime minister than they would be with Labour leader David Cunliffe in the role, especially if he does what is needed now.

With the role of ambassador to the United States coming up during the next term, Key appears to have both a carrot and a stick to enable a deal to be done.

Far better McCully takes a dive than a promising back bencher. McCully’s parliamentary career is coming to a close.


– Fairfax