New Zealand: Is a Christian Conservative coalition emerging?

Kiwi Party won't stand candidates in November, as Christian democrats join the Conservatives. Is a new right in evidence?

The complex New Zealand voting system, MMP, is subject to review at a referendum to co-incide with the upcoming 26 November election. It is renouned for throwing up numerous splinter parties and evolving entities. One such was Future New Zealand, which spawned a range of parties including centrist United Future in 2000 and the Christian democratic conservative Kiwi Party in 2007. If not confused, voters were turned off, as niche teams competed for their support.

Now the new Conservative Party, brainchild of its determined leader Colin Craig, aims to capture the Christian right vote. Kiwi Party members have been joining his fold and adding their names to his party list. Craig expects to win the seat of Rodney in Auckland. And Christian democrats scent momentum as the National Party tries hard to sound confident in the wake natural disasters and rising food prices.

Parties with Christian values might struggle in an increasingly agnostic and even aethist nation, but there is a strong conservative streak amongst sections of the population. Neither the free-marketeers of ACT, nor populists of New Zealand First have garnered sufficient bedrock support to propose a real challenge to big-tent parties. One of those, National, a traditional centre-right party, has shifted firmly to the middle ground under the stewardship of leader and prime minister, John Key. A gap is presented to National's right.

National formed a governing coalition with minor parties after nine years in opposition. In 2008 it won power from a tired Labour Party and inherited a precarious financial position in a developing recession. The party has been bruised by natural disasters including a mining catastrophe in Westland, horrendous weather in Southland and two quakes in Canterbury. Its preparedness and response have been sorely criticised, despite an upsurge in patriotism. That feeling of national togetherness is particularly in evidence as the All Blacks campaign to win the Rugby World Cup. Yet an ecological disaster resulting from a grounded cargo ship in the Bay of Plenty is creating a headwind of dissent among a people crying out for political leadership.They have discovered their government wanting. 

In 1996, under a previous National-led government, the Dairy Board was dissolved with assets transferred to co-operatives. In 2001 some of these combined to form Fonterra, now the world's largest dairy export business. Aside some marginal competition, Fonterra remains a dominant domestic operator. And despite being a huge food exporter, increasingly to China, New Zealanders have in the main had to pay the same price for food as their overseas customers. This is unpopular and viewed by many as unjust.

To date, a weak Labour opposition has failed to capitalise on these grievances. Disatisfaction is growing in relation to a house insurance conundrum in post-quake Christchurch. And the extent of lax urban planning rules and ineffective earthquake building codes in a country sitting on fault lines has more than merely raised eyebrows. These could direct voting intentions away from National.

The Conservative Party has only recently been formed, and will not yet have had time to muster support, acquire medium-term funding or develop a formitable team of spokespeople. However, the decision by the Kiwi Party not to contest the 26 November vote provides positive publicity and limited impetus.

There is that gap on the right to fill. Time is too short perhaps to create a viable operation on that side of the political spectrum. But there is a natural constituency, whose voices are not being heard.

How many of those are Christians remains to be seen.This party will have an Achilles heel, which might be its natural antipathy to liberal social issues. For New Zealanders have taken to social diversity, and hardline attitudes to the likes of same-sex relationships are shunned in general.

Can this new Conservative Party represent those who envisage progress through thrift, hard work and enterprise, rather than those who bang-on about retrogressive Victorian values?

Update October 23, 2011:

Larry Baldock, leader of the Kiwi Party, will stand for the Conservatives in the November general election. 

Paul Young, the New Citizen's Party candidate who came third after National and Labour in the 5 March 2011 Botany by-election, will represent the Conservatives in Botany on 26 November.

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  1. This is really interesting. What is becoming very evident is that significant numbers of people around the world are feeling that their "leaders" are gas-bags.

    The rise of the Conservative Party is not necessarily directly linked to "religious" or olde world rhetoric. The obvious duality (I'm being nice) in governance is striking a chord amongst a range of people that would not necessarily throw their lot in with one another.

    If this new party can demonstrate transparency and an iron will to serve the interests of people in general they may grow to be a force to be reckoned with. If, however, they parade around under a conservative flag while pandering to the money we'll just have another bunch of bellicose masqueraders joining the circus we already have.

  2. Marcel, you possibly haven't read what Colin Craig has to say about debt... try