New Zealand: flying start for new Conservative Party

Colin Craig's project lifts off the ground. How far can it get and what damage will it do to National, ACT and NZ First?

Third-placed Auckland mayoral contest candidate Colin Craig has announced he'll stand at the November 26 general election for Rodney, his home-patch. The semi-rural electorate, just north of Auckland city, is the District where his father was a renouned councellor until Rodney Council was abolished in 2010. 

Craig himself is a wealthy and successful property businessman who is bank-rolling the newly registered Conservative Party. Private polling shows Craig well ahead in Rodney with a ten-point advantage over the National candidate in what had been a safe National seat. Labour trails far back in third. There's been contention within local National ranks during its selection process, causing ripples. So Craig is in with a chance of snatching the Rodney seat.

Under New Zealand's MMP proportional representation system a party winning just one constituency is rewarded with the same number of parliamentary seats as its proportion of the national vote, with no threshold needing to be breached. Should the Conservative Party, therefore, garner a mere 1.7% of the total vote it would be entitled to 1.7% of the seats in the unicameral House of Representatives in Wellington, or a total of two seats. This might sound insignificant, but in a parliament of only 120 members it is not potentially.

Being a Christian-orientated right-leaning party, the Conservatives could expect to pick up a key slice of the voting cake. They'd probably take votes from the centre-right National Party, the right-wing market-driven ACT party, or populist New Zealand First party. 

These votes would be unlikely to hurt National too much (although they would have lost that seat at Rodney) as they are so far ahead of Labour in opinion polls. Latest estimates put National on anything up to 56% with Labour trailing on around 30%. 

ACT is vulnerable, although the constituency of Epsom in Auckland will undoubtedly go their way as ex-Auckland Mayor John Banks is their candidate. ACT's support now languishes at c. 2% nationally. On that basis the party could expect to pick up only three seats, although increased media exposure, some high profile and experienced candidates and an eloquent leader in the form of Don Brash, a former Reserve Bank Governor and National opposition leader, could raise their tally by voting day.

NZ First is in a more precarious place as it's highly unlikely to win any electorate (constituency) seats. Its national support is strong, particularly with the grey vote but lately also with elements of the patriotic youth. They have two interesting candidates in the capital though: their party youth wing leader, university student Ben Craven standing in Wellington Central, and outdoor recreation advocate and author Dr Hugh Barr, candidate in Ohariu. Central is a Labour/National marginal currently held by Labour, and Ohariu is a seat held by Peter Dunne, leader of a small centrist Coalition-partnering party called United Future. Whether either Craven or Barr has any realistic chance of making an impact is questionable. The NZF leader, ex-Foreign Minister Winston Peters has yet to announce whether he will contest a seat or hope to be swept back into parliament by the party achieving in excess of the 5% threshold support required when no constituency seat has been won. NZ First's participation in the next parliament is thus in serious doubt. The shaving off by Conservatives of any their support would damage their chances, and at present polls show NZ First at only around 2%.

By August the Conservatives had enrolled an impressive six hundred members, more than those needed to register and contest an election. By November this figure could have risen substantially. Craig has ambitions for his party to put up candidates across the country, and appears to have the financial resources and backing necessary to achieve his aims.

Whether the Conservatives can wreak havoc on minor parties will only have an effect on who can form the government should National not breach 50% of the total vote. And that, at this stage, appears unlikely. 

But, as the late Harold MacMillan, a formidable campaigner and UK Prime Minister, once said "a week is a long time in politics" and there are more than eight to go before November 26. MacMillan also said that politics was an uncertain game as parties in power can so easily be thwarted without notice by "events, dear boy, events". No truer word has ever been spoken, as a calamity can strike without warning. 

The Conservatives have everything to play for. 

Check out all commentaries here.  


  1. Considering the opinion polls exclude the 30% undecided I wonder why anyone pays any attention to them at all.

    Your polling figure for both National and Labour are about 5% larger than what any poll is suggesting, which means your Labour figure is in the 'ballpark' as traditionally results narrow leading up to an election.

    I really don't know what polls you are using as I have seen NZ First polling from 4 to 6%.

    Anyway apart from the number, nice analysis. Clearly a blog to watch.

  2. Trends are the thing, rather than the numbers ... I agree. And the margin of error in polls always means that "MMP" parties could perform considerably better or much worse than opinion polling suggested. The "undecideds" are a big factor too, as you say. Thanks for your comment and compliment.