Might NZ Nats cultivate a new ally?

“The electoral gods could well be shining on Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.” So says the NZ Herald, in reporting on the new constituency boundary proposals in advance of the 2014 New Zealand general election. Auckland’s North Shore region could obtain a new seat, and it could be favorable Conservative territory.

If the National Party were to nominate a “low-profile” candidate in the electorate, and wink and nod in Craig’s direction, the Conservatives might make it into the next parliament, and be a potential post-electoral ally for the Nationals.


In the campaign for the November, 2011, election, Craig and his party had signs like this up in many locations (this one was in Christchurch; there was also a huge one in downtown Wellington).  The “every vote counts” slogan and the plea for party (list) votes both depended on the assumption that Craig would win his own district race. The party ended up with barely more than half the vote share it would have needed nationwide to get any seats if Craig did not win his contest: 2.65%, where the list-vote threshold is 5%. But once a party wins an electorate, it earns its full proportional share based on the list votes, even if that is below 5%; in this case, indeed, every (list) vote counts.

Craig put up a credible showing for a minor party that lacked a de-facto deal with a major party, winning 20.9% and second place in the Rodney electorate. That his vote was that high suggests there were indeed voters in this small-c conservative electorate splitting in his favor to try to get the Conservative Party represented. His vote was 3.27 times that of his party in the electorate, whereas National’s candidate’s vote was only 0.85 that of the National list. (The candidates of the right-wing Act, a National ally, and of New Zealand First also ran well behind their party in Rodney, although their votes were paltry, while the candidates of Labour and Greens ran about even with their own parties.)  Had National put up a weak candidate, Craig might have won the electorate; in that case, the Conservative Party list-vote share could have been sufficient for three seats (Craig, plus two from the list).

Given that two of its current allies have only one seat apiece (United Future and Act), and may not make it back in, National is in need of allies if it is to hope to retain power after the next election. No wonder the National government did not want to dispense with the single-electorate alternative threshold as proposed by the Electoral Commission in the MMP Review. (The Commission also proposed reducing the list threshold to 4%.) National needs allies like this, lacking allies assured of clearing 5% of the party vote like Labour’s potential allies, Green and (probably) New Zealand First. And Craig and his Conservatives look like a better bet to win multiple seats than United Future and Act–provided Craig has a winnable electorate in 2014. Moreover, as the NZ Herald article notes, Conservatives might even reach 4% if voters expected Craig to be elected, increasing the perception around the country that, indeed, every vote for the Conservative list counts.

16 thoughts on “Might NZ Nats cultivate a new ally?

  1. Errol, I was just about to post a link to that story. Thanks!

    The bill won’t pass this parliament, but it makes sense for the opposition to get it on the agenda. If they form the next government, they will be ready to advance a bill that would conform to the MMP Review recommendation with respect to the threshold (4%, and abolishing the single-electorate alternative threshold).

    Meanwhile, PM Key has been a little more explicit about a possible deal with Colin Craig and the Conservatives. A couple of key quotes (no pun intended):

    John Key said he expected to have discussions with the party leader Colin Craig in the lead-up to next year’s election as he canvasses possible coalition partners… “…in principle if he won a seat it would be a guaranteed National-Conservatives Government,” Mr Key said on TV3’s First Line programme today…

    Mr Key admitted that “some people will be concerned about his [Mr Craig’s] moral issues” but said he would reassure people that such matters come down to conscience votes in Parliament.

    Mr Craig has already said he would try to overturn the anti-smacking law if he were to secure a seat at the Beehive. He is also against gay marriage, is sceptical of Treaty claims and man-made climate change.

  2. From the Kiwiblog link that Errol provided:

    It is worth noting that this bill does not implement the recommendations of the Electoral Commission in full. It cherry picks the recommendations they agree with, but doesn’t implement the recommendation to get rid of overhang seats or setting a ratio of electorate to list seats.

    By not getting rid of over-hangs, Labour’s bill would have seen the size of Parliament in the last three elections as 127 MPs, 128 MPs and 126 MPs.

    • In comparison with the notional (Minimum?) number of 120 seats. Initially 60 General districts, 5 Maori, and 55 list. Currently 63 General, 7 Maori, 50 list (+1 overhang).
      Interesting that the Stuff (website of the Fairfax Media group) article doesn’t mention that it is only some of the recommendations.

  3. Isn’t it the Nats’ intended policy to abolish Maori seats if they win the next election as at least in theory the State’s Treaty obligations will have been fulfilled?

    • The Nats have long wanted to abolish the Maori reserved seats. They agreed to put it off in anticipation of needing the Maori Party support, which they have following the last two elections. I suspect this is a status quo that will remain for a while.

  4. The election date has again been announced well in advance by PM John Key. September 20 is earlier than most were expecting – November would have been ‘normal’, reasons at http://fw.to/K7ZNLve

  5. Would it be unkind to point out that 1 announcing the election date very early did not work out so well for the only other Australasian prime minister who has tried it and 2 the election was ultimately held on a different date anyway?

    • I think that somehow, the other precedent (Key himself, before the last election) would be more relevant in this case, Alan…

  6. Yes, the 2011 New Zealand election was announced months in advance as well. The reason given then had something to do with that Kiwi fascination with rugby (World Cup dates). But now it looks indeed like a precedent. September is a surprise, given that most NZ elections have been in October or November (in 2011 was 26 November).

    This part of Key’s reasoning is particularly interesting: “His personal view was that elections should permanently move to a “September to September” cycle as international summits tended to be held in November. The time it took for coalition agreements to be struck meant the House could be required to sit in January, he said.” (See Errol’s link.)

  7. Over the last few weeks, Labour has again advocated removing the ‘coat-tailing’ provision. Presumably while still ignoring the other recommendations of the Review that don’t give them immediate advantage.

    • I did not know that Banks (Act Party MP, Epsom) had resigned till I read the link Errol posted. Nor did I know that the rule apparently is that if 75% of MPs agree, a seat can be left vacant till the general election when a sitting member leaves.

      • That’s an improvement on most Westminster systems where by-elections are in the hands of the government, although formally the writ is issued by the head of state or the speaker.

      • Avoiding the by-election is only available within the six months before the next general election. This avoids the silly result in this particular situation of an MP being returned after the last day that Parliament sits!

        Note that the resignation was due to being found guilty of filing an incorrect electoral expenses return for his unsuccessful mayoral campaign for Auckland Council in 2010. While sentencing was delayed until after Parliament will rise (if it was other than ‘discharged without conviction’ he would have automatically lost his seat), he resigned shortly after the verdict. Confidence and Supply is not in doubt, and only one piece of legislation is expected to fail due to the resignation.

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