23 Jun 2014

Craig hopes for help from National

2:22 pm on 23 June 2014

Colin Craig is, by his own admission, set to fight a losing battle for the East Coast Bays electorate in this year's election, but believes it is possible National will help him secure an electorate.

The Conservative Party leader announced on Sunday he was going to run in the Auckland electorate held for National by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully since 1987.

Mr Craig has admitted he does not expect to beat Mr McCully, but is running in the electorate to bring in more votes for the Conservative Party.

Colin Craig and party CEO Christine Rankin.

Colin Craig and party CEO Christine Rankin. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

"At this stage it'll be a very close contest. Polling shows he's ahead and I don't want to create any false impressions here. We've chosen this electorate on the basis that I'm going to pick up a lot of the party vote and I will run a very, very strong second."

While he has ruled out what he calls a cup of tea deal with the National Party, he told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme he believed there was still a possibility that the party would help him.

"The reason I say that is the history of both National and Labour is they do stand people aside or make accommodations electorally.

"I don't control that, that's my speculation, I don't know whether that will or won't be the case."

Prime Minister John Key said the National Party had not made a decision on a deal with Colin Craig.

"At the start of the year I laid out the fact that I thought I could work with a number of political parties if they make it into Parliament and the Conservatives are one of those.

"But whether that progresses to anything beyond that is essentially a tactical decision for another day."

Mr Key told Morning Report Mr Craig had a lot of support in the East Coast Bays electorate and it was s a logical place for him to stand.

Campaign launch

Mr Craig was applauded by more than 200 supporters when he announced his intention to contest the seat on Sunday, at a school in Murray McCully's electorate.

It is unusual for a candidate to declare at a campaign launch that they won't be winning, but Mr Craig said he wanted to get six or seven Conservative Party MPs into Parliament.

He is a potential coalition partner for the National Party but has said there would be no symbolically important cup of tea like that with former Epsom MP John Banks before the last election.

"We won't be having a cup of tea. I think I need to keep saying I can't control National and people seem to think I can. I have no magic strings, I have no sort of secret negotiation or anything that I'm able to sort of say to them - they'll choose to do what they choose to do. But we've made our decision independently."

Mr McCully was in Iran and unable to be contacted but released a statement.

"Mr Craig's announced intention to run in East Coast Bays changes nothing. I am pleased to have been selected as the National candidate for East Coast Bays. I have enjoyed strong support from the people of East Coast Bays in past elections. This year I will be campaigning strongly to seek their support again."

Mr McCully increased his support at the last election from the one before. In 2011 he got 64.98 percent support, up from the 58.09 percent he got in 2008. That in turn was up from his 47.02 percent support in 2005.

In 2011, 21,094 people gave him their vote and his nearest rival was a Labour candidate who got 6453. The Conservative Party candidate in the 2011 election got 1614 votes, or 4.97 percent.

There was a mostly positive reaction from Conservative Party supporters at the announcement, but there was also some doubt.

"I'm thrilled to bits, I don't think Murray has been a good representative for us at all" said one, while another said: "It's a great idea because we're standing up to make a difference". Another said Mr Craig should be standing in the new seat of Upper Harbour.

The Conservative Party's overall support at the last election was 59,237 votes or 2.65 percent, and the party's chief executive Christine Rankin told supporters that the current polls don't reflect the true level of support it has.

"Don't let anyone tell you that we won't make it, because I can assure you that we will. The reception that we're getting up and down the country belies our ratings in the polls."

There was speculation Ms Rankin would go up against National MP Paula Bennett in the new Upper Harbour electorate, but another Conservative Party member, Callum Blair has been chosen to contest that seat.

The party says the former Work and Income chief executive has been recently ill with pneumonia and the move shouldn't be seen as decision that she won't be running in the upcoming election. It says there are decisions which are yet to be made.

East Coast Bays electorate snapshot

The 2011 elections results