If you missed it late last year, let me remind you. Prime Minister John Key celebrated his five years in office in a very, very odd way. In his ‘one-on-one’ interviews with Press Gallery journalists, he seriously talked up the Conservative Party and its leader, Colin Craig.
Key basically invited someone else to the party and let him have the stage – he breathed life and oxygen into another politician and his party. Strange? No. Not this time. It was big-picture thinking from a Prime Minister who is slightly desperate.
He’s thinking about the next big party, the election later this year. Key needs allies; he needs friends if he wants to get a third term. He has a crisis on his hands with his support parties, so it is ‘Crisis Colin’ to the rescue.
Clearly, his current crop of support parties – John Banks and Peter Dunne – offer little now, if anything at all. They are political corpses. They certainly don’t offer Key what he needs – a strong coalition partner, with numbers, to get him across the line.
At the time of writing, Banks looked shot, with or without a court case over his electoral returns, and Peter Dunne brings nothing to the table – except himself. So Key went shopping. And he picked Craig. Key clearly doesn’t want to work with Winston Peters – there’s too much bad blood. He’s figured that if Peters gets into a position where he has a choice of government he will pick Labour.
So Key has gambled early. He has reached out. I have no doubt that National will do an electoral seat deal with Craig – Key is banking on Craig to bring four or five MPs with him. That would give Key the numbers to get past 61 seats.
My money is on a deal in the East Coast Bays seat. Current member Murray McCully will be a list-only candidate. He’ll be happy with that: after 20 odd years it will be a relief to McCully anyway. He has bigger fish to fry, hobnobbing on the world stage than opening schools in Mairangi Bay.
And the Conservatives should be easy enough to work with. Craig is anti-asset sales, but it’s too late for that. The assets are sold and Key has already pledged there are no more sell. Nice timing, that statement from the Prime Minister.
And if Craig wants to campaign on bringing smacking back Key might just let him, but surely Craig will see sense and focus on a new, positive platform. And they appear to be an organised party, if not a little odd. They have money and supporters, and a few weird ideas. Craig wonders if chem-trails from planes are some sort of mass conspiracy against the human race.
But they are popular, too. In the Christchurch East by-election, they got nine times as many votes as ACT, who got the same number as the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.
At the 2011 election, the Conservatives got 2.65 percent – but it was a wasted vote because they didn’t win a seat and didn’t crack the 5 percent threshold. This year Key has realised he can’t afford to allow that centre-right, conservative vote to be wasted. He needs it, and he needs Craig to bring in a handful of MPs to help him get a third term. Key is simply being pragmatic. MMP demands it.
The other option is losing, and Key hates that. He always has. He loves winning and he’ll do anything, pretty much, to get there. Colin Craig MP and Minister… watch this space.