Reader calls Whaleoil out over Colin Craig’s 2000 postal ballots

Yesterday we covered the Conservative party’s drama with respect to picking a leader.  I suggested that the party may not at all have given up on Colin Craig yet.  As reported in the NZ Herald, Colin claims he sent out a postal ballot to all Conservative party members, and the response was about 75% in favour.  My point was that Colin Craig is clearly still an option for the party to consider.

Whaleoil reader ‘dab’ thinks I draw a long bow

…the original article in which Mr Craig disclosed that 75% of 2,000 responses were supportive of him, was dated July 2015 – so is hopelessly out of date. I struggle to believe such levels of support remain, even among the perpetually faithful.

That’s a fair point.  And in the absence of another postal ballot of the membership, or a resolution by the party board, it is getting stale.  But it’s the best quality information that the Conservative party is operating under.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that the 2000 ballots have turned up somewhere else, I would have agreed with ‘dab’.  Just a few days ago, the Judicial Decisions Online web site published a decision in the High Court between Craig v Stringer.

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The judgement is in two parts.  The first part concerns the 2000 ballots, and the second part the judgement that Mr Craig will not have to face a jury like he did in Williams v Craig.

What piqued my interest however is the apparent ballyhoo going on away from public eyes about these 2000 ballots.  The judge writes:

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As I read it, this postal ballot wasn’t a Conservative party initiative.  If it was, it is done in bad form.  Who on earth would put the ‘returning officer’ in the same position as the person the ballot is about?  That hardly keeps a clean and independent “chain of custody”.

What seems odd is that if it was a Conservative party ballot, that they would have allowed responses to go directly to Mr Craig.   And if it was a personal initiative by Mr Craig, why did the Conservative party allow him to use the membership database?  It must be remembered that Mr Craig was no longer the leader, nor on the board.  He was “just” a member himself.

In this specific case before the High Court, Mr Craig alleges that Mr Stringer has defamed him.  One of the pivotal points held to be true by John Stringer is that Mr Craig lies.  In the sense that he does it frequently enough and on non-trivial issues.  In the process of preparing for trial Mr Stringer asked to “discover” the ballots to see if Mr Craig’s “75%” claim was indeed correct.  As he was part of the Conservative Party board at the time, and this ballot went out without his involvement, he feels he has a right to question the process, the results and the integrity.

Mr Craig has been refusing to release these ballots while insisting on wide ranging discovery from Mr Stringer and third parties to Mr Stringer such as Vodafone, to attempt to access Mr Stringers emails.

At some point Mr Craig convinced an associate judge that he had no control over the ballot papers.  He has since agreed that he does.  And as he does, Mr Stringer wants them discovered to him.

Here is the crux of the matter as it stands now, as summarised by the judge:

In considering that matter, the plaintiff [Mr Craig] says the relevant defamatory statements made by the defendant here relate to suggestions that the plaintiff has been entirely selective in the Party members to whom he has sent out ballot forms to “skew” the ballot in favour of his remaining as leader of the Party. The plaintiff’s position is that there is no dispute here that the ballot did take place and there were a large number of responses estimated to be about 2000. However, the plaintiff contends that, even if these ballot papers were discovered to the defendant, he would have no evidence that the database used to send out the ballot papers was selective, nor would he have any evidence that the ballots would be used by the plaintiff to build his own selective database. According to the plaintiff, this is not only because he says these events never occurred, but also because the ballot responses themselves simply cannot provide evidence for or against the contentions pleaded in the amended statement of claim and therefore they are not relevant to matters put at issue in the pleadings. Thus the plaintiff maintains they cannot be discoverable.

In response, the defendant [Mr Stringer] says at the outset, that he does not accept that the plaintiff himself does not have proper access to or control over the membership database of the Conservative Party. Notwithstanding this and in any event, the defendant goes on to maintain that, the thrust of his defence to the allegations of defamation the plaintiff makes against him is that the plaintiff is simply dishonest and does not tell the truth. On this, the defendant contends that the plaintiff’s repeated statements in all forms of media at the time were that over 2000 ballot papers had been returned to him and 75 per cent of these voiced support and wished the plaintiff to remain as leader of the Conservative Party. It is that contention which the defendant says he challenges, and simple discovery of the ballot papers without more could well assist his defence on that aspect.

And then Gendall J goes on to say

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Even though the results of the ballot may be stale in the sense that the membership’s support for Mr Craig among those members that had responded is no longer 75% now that he’s had several court judgements go against him, the issue of the ballot papers themselves is far from stale in the sense that they have been battled over in court.

Mr Craig has refused to share them in proceedings, first by erroneously claiming he didn’t have them under his control, while he does (is that a lie?), and now that he can share them but he wants a court to order him not to as it will essentially be pointless to Mr Stringer’s case to prove his defence.  This is a technique Mr Craig has attempted frequently during discovery in a number of cases.  He tells the court that evidence simply isn’t relevant and therefore refuses to discover it.  The court, in this case at least, says that if there is nothing relevant, there is no harm in discovering it.  So get on with it.

This is just me speculating, but what if the ballots never showed 75% support for Mr Craig’s return as the Conservative party leader.  Surely that would both be a reason for Mr Craig to resist releasing the ballots as well as prove an open and shut defence for Mr Stringer who has claimed Mr Craig  makes things up.

The judge appears to agree that the simplest way to solve this is to discover the ballots, and if Mr Stringer wants to match them to the Conservative party database, he can apply for leave to do so.

But the most interesting immediate check will be to see if the 75% figure actually holds up.  Since Mr Craig was the one to receive the ballots personally, as well as collate the result, as well as report that to the NZ Herald at a level of approximately 75%, this would be the first test the ballots will need to pass.

So far from Whaleoil reader dab‘s suggestion that this is stale, it turns out the in terms of the Conservative party looking for a new leader, and Colin Craig having told the NZ Herald his support was quite substantial at the time, it appears we are at a point where these very same ballots, what they actually say, and how this can still affect the Conservative party is very much a current news story.


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