Conservative Party of New Zealand
|Founded||3 August 2011|
|Student wing||Young Conservatives|
|MPs in the House of Representatives||
0 / 121
|Auckland Local Board Members||
0 / 146
The Conservative Party of New Zealand is a fiscally and socially conservative political party in New Zealand. It was founded in August 2011 by businessman and political activist Colin Craig, who led the party from its foundation until his resignation, on 19 June 2015, on the grounds of "inappropriate conduct" and to contest an internal election. It contested the 2011 and 2014 general elections, without winning any seats. It is being managed by an elected board.
- 1 Philosophy and policies
- 2 Organisation
- 3 History
- 4 Election results
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Philosophy and policies
- opposition to same-sex marriage
- the first $20,000 of earnings being free of income tax
- cutting the number of members of the Parliament of New Zealand from 120 (currently 121 due to overhang seat) to 99
- repeal of the 'anti-smacking' child discipline law
- the use of binding referenda
- abolition of the separate Māori electoral seats in parliament
- opposition to sales of rural land to foreign interests
- abolition of New Zealand's emission trading scheme
The Conservative Party is currently governed by a six-member board that also elects the party's leader. In June 2015, most of the previous board members resigned in anticipation of a party leadership vote scheduled for 27 June. By 4 July 2015, all original board members, including the Party Leader Colin Craig, had resigned from the board. A provisional board was formed consisting of former electoral candidates, Deborah Cunliffe, Mark Pearce, Paddy O'Rourke, and Al Belcher. This was short lived as John Stringer, who was instrumental in forming this board as its chairman, had his membership suspended by the previous board and was acting unlawfully according to the constitution. The provisional board, sans Stringer, deemed it had been illegally formed so unanimously decided to dissolve itself.
Colin Craig had stood in the 2010 Auckland mayoral election, where he polled third (with about 8.7% of the vote) behind Len Brown and John Banks. He announced the formation of the Conservative Party on 3 August 2011 at a media event in Newmarket, Auckland. It gained the 500 members required for registration within a month of its founding, and the Electoral Commission registered it on 6 October 2011, allowing it to contest the party vote in the 2011 general election. Its party logo was registered at the same time.
The Conservatives contested the November 2011 general election. Craig stood in the Rodney electorate. In October 2011 they announced electoral alliances with The Kiwi Party and New Citizen Party, in which their candidates stood instead as Conservatives. The party ran a list of 52 candidates, including Kiwi Party leader Larry Baldock and former New Citizen Botany candidate Paul Young.
During the campaign the party portrayed itself as able to work with either of the two main parties, National and Labour. It highlighted its socially conservative policies of raising the drinking age to 21, parental notification for abortions, and repeal of the "anti-smacking" law. It announced its opposition to National's policy of selling state assets.
The party gained 2.65% of the party vote (59,237 votes), but failed to win any seats in Parliament. Craig came second in Rodney, gaining 8,031 votes – 12,222 votes behind first-time National Party candidate Mark Mitchell. The party spent NZ$1.88 million on its campaign, the second-highest of any party, with most of the money coming from Craig himself.
Following the election, Conservative candidates Larry Baldock and Peter Redman were referred to police for filing false expenses returns and for exceeding the $25,000 cap on election expenses. Colin Craig stated that if the Police found any impropriety neither Larry Baldock nor Peter Redman would be allowed to stand as Conservative candidates. The police subsequently declined to lay charges in the matter.
2011 to 2014
In May 2013, the party appointed high profile former Work and Income New Zealand chief executive Christine Rankin as its chief executive. The party contested the 2013 Christchurch East by-election; candidate Leighton Baker polled 487 votes (or 3.65%) in the preliminary count. The party also contested the 2013 local elections, fielding 27 candidates in Auckland. The party gained 50,218 votes overall, and two candidates (Christine Rankin and Callum Blair) were elected to the Upper Harbour Local Board.
In February 2014, the-then Green Party co-leader Russel Norman alleged that Colin Craig held misogynistic and homophobic attitudes during a speech at the Big Gay Out event in Auckland. Norman's comments prompted Craig to file a defamation suit and to demand that Norman issue an apology. In response, Norman and the Green Party announced that they would contest the lawsuit. On 10 October 2014, following the 2014 general election, the parties settled the lawsuit out of court and agreed to bear their own legal expenses.
In November 2013 speculation arose in the New Zealand news media about a possible electoral accommodation between the Conservatives and the National Party for the 2014 general election. This followed comments by Prime Minister and National Party leader John Key that appeared to hold out the possibility of the Conservatives becoming a coalition partner for National following the election. Speculation suggested that the National Party might not run a candidate in a constituency on Auckland's North Shore, such as Rodney, or East Coast Bays. The Electoral Commission announced on 21 November 2013 the proposed formation of a new electorate on the North Shore named Upper Harbour. Senior National Cabinet Minister Paula Bennett announced her intention to stand in the new electorate. Nevertheless, speculation continued that National MP Murray McCully might vacate his East Coast Bays seat to become a list-only MP, giving Colin Craig a chance to win the seat. If Craig won an electorate, the Conservatives would not need to pass the 5% threshold for representation in the New Zealand parliament, potentially allowing one or more Conservative Party list MPs into the House of Representatives. However, McCully confirmed that he would stand in East Coast Bays as its incumbent National Party electorate MP. After some indecision, Craig also elected to stand in the East Coast Bays electorate. John Key announced on 28 July 2014 that McCully would not step aside to assist the Conservatives into parliament, nor would National urge its members to vote for Craig, thus ending speculation about an electoral deal in East Coast Bays.
On 3 August 2014 Colin Craig announced that party chief executive Christine Rankin would stand in the Epsom electorate. On 7 August 2014 the party announced that Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar would stand, and later announced that this would be in the Napier electorate. On 13 September a TVNZ Colmar Brunton Poll showed McVicar polling 22% in the Napier electorate, behind Labour and National candidates. National Party leader John Key ruled out endorsing McVicar.
The Conservative Party announced the top five positions for its party list on 22 August 2014. The top five were leader (1) Colin Craig, (2) Epsom candidate Christine Rankin, (3) Garth McVicar (4) Melissa Perkin (5) Mangere candidate Edward Saafi.
The party reached 4.6% in a 3 News Reid Research poll released in late August 2014, suggesting that it might break the 5% threshold. However, on 20 September 2014, the Conservatives polled 3.97%, not enough to enter Parliament without also winning an electorate seat.
On 1 August 2014 Colin Craig revealed that China-based firm Shanghai Pengxin was purchasing Lochinver Station, a large dairy farm, and said that the Conservatives were opposed to the deal. Craig won a High Court injunction on 8 August 2014 to prevent TV3 from excluding him from a minor leader's debate that was to have included lower polling parties such as ACT New Zealand and United Future. The televised debate included the Conservative Party leader.
The Electoral Commission awarded the Conservatives $60,000 in advertising funding for the 2014 general election, three times the $20,800 allocation it made to the Conservatives in 2011. Shortly before the general election, the party's press secretary Rachel MacGregor resigned, citing Colin Craig's alleged manipulative behaviour. During the 2014 general election, the Conservative Party received 3.98% of the party vote but won no seats in Parliament; political parties need to attain 5% in order to enter Parliament under New Zealand's Mixed-member proportional system.
2015 resignations of leader and board members
On 19 June 2015, the Conservative Party's leader Colin Craig resigned. Board members had scheduled a meeting for that day to discuss the leadership as it was felt that Craig's recent participation in a television interview conducted in a sauna had reflected badly on the party. Dissatisfaction had also been expressed over Craig's demeanour toward the party's former press secretary Rachel MacGregor, who had resigned just before the 2014 general election. Dissatisfaction increased when Craig pre-emptively and perhaps unconstitutionally postponed the meeting for a week in order to announce his resignation. Craig later announced that he will consider contesting the party's leadership if he has enough support. On 21 June, the New Zealand Herald reported that Craig had settled the dispute with MacGregor for around NZ$16,000 to NZ$17,000 eight weeks earlier.
The television channel One News also reported that there was a disagreement between Craig and several Conservative Party board members. One member, John Stringer, accused Craig of not following the party's constitution. In response, Craig denied the allegation and threatened to take action against Stringer. The Chairman of the Board stated that Stringer's views did not reflect the view of the Conservative Party and that his comments were only his opinion.
During a media conference held on 22 June 2015, Craig admitted that he had "acted inappropriately" toward his press secretary Rachel MacGregor but denied any charge of sexual harassment. In response, MacGregor said that by making the admission, Craig had breached a confidentiality agreement the pair had reached under Human Rights Commission mediation and she disputed his account of the events. Craig's wife Helen Craig also announced that she was standing by her husband and characterized the charges against him as "false allegations." According to the Herald, several board members of the Conservative Party including John Stringer, Christine Rankin, and Laurence Day indicated support for a change of leadership. A board meeting was scheduled for 27 June 2015 and Day called for Craig to be expelled from the party. Rankin and two other party members, Sensible Sentencing Trust leader Garth McVicar and Family First founder Bob McCoskrie, ruled out contesting the Conservative Party's leadership.
During the week that immediately followed Colin Craig's resignation, all remaining members of the board, with the exception of John Stringer, resigned. On 27 June 2015, at the scheduled board meeting, Stringer appointed a new board consisting of himself as chairman and four new members. This board voted to suspend Craig's membership in the Conservative Party. Stringer said that a final decision about Craig's membership and the appointment of a new leader would be made at a later date. According to One News, Craig later challenged the legality of Stringer's and the board's actions, claiming that Stringer had been suspended from the party. He did not rule out contesting the Conservative Party's leadership. Craig's remarks were dismissed by Stringer, who became the party's interim leader.
On 5 July 2015, John Stringer resigned his positions as chairman and board member in the wake of the statements that he had been suspended from the party and was therefore not entitled to hold the positions. According to the New Zealand Herald, a statement by former chairman Brian Dobbs that Stringer had been suspended meant that the decision by the interim board to suspend Colin Craig's membership was invalid. On 7 July, Craig also sent a personal letter to Conservative Party members to apologise for his behaviour and to gauge whether he had sufficient support to return to the party's leadership. On 26 July 2015, the New Zealand Herald reported that a 3News-Reid Research poll had found support for the party to be only 0.7 per cent, the lowest it has polled since just before the 2011 General Election.
On 29 July 2015, Craig embarked on a lawsuit against several opponents including the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union's executive director Jordan Williams, fellow party member John Stringer, and the right wing blogger Cameron Slater for alleged defamation. Craig also circulated a booklet, titled Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas, in which he outlined a "campaign of defamatory lies" against him.
On 10 August 2015, John Stringer responded by lodging a complaint against Colin Craig with the New Zealand Police, alleging that Craig had exceeded his allocated election fund legal limit by NZ$2,000 when contesting the East Coast Bays electorate in 2014. A police investigation subsequently cleared Craig of any wrongdoing. In addition, Stringer criticized Craig's management of the Conservative Party's 2014 election campaign. The following day, Stringer submitted a dossier of documents to both the police and the New Zealand Electoral Commission. On 14 August 2015, Jordan Williams launched a counter-suit against Colin Craig and several Conservative Party officials in response to Craig's statements at the July press conference and in the circular Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas. On 11 September 2015, Colin Craig filed a retaliatory defamation suit against the Party's former chairman, John Stringer. Stringer has indicated that he would contest these charges in court.
On 16 November 2015, Craig announced that he would not be contesting the Conservative Party leadership in light of a police investigation against him over his party's spending during the 2014 general election. Craig also cited the ongoing lawsuits involving him, Cameron Slater, and John Stringer as other reasons for his decision not to contest the party leadership. In addition, the newly-elected Conservative Party board chair Leighton Baker indicated that the party was "in no hurry" to appoint a new leadership until it had rebuilt its membership base.
On 19 January 2016, Colin Craig donated NZ$36,000 to the Conservative Party. Despite his lack of involvement with the leadership, he stated that he and his wife still wanted to support the party financially. On 2 February 2016, the Conservative Party's board validated the decision of the previous board to suspend John Stringer's membership. The suspension was part of an ongoing internal conflict within the party between Mr Stringer and the former Conservative leader Craig. On 1 March 2016, it was reported that Stringer had dropped his defamation suit against Craig and was seeking legal advice to ensure that his statement of defence complied with court rules for defamation cases. However, Craig's lawsuit against Stringer and Jordan Williams' lawsuit against Craig remain ongoing.
In September 2016, the Auckland High Court began hearing Jordan William's defamation lawsuit against Colin Craig, expected to last five weeks. On 7 September, the former party chief executive and Epsom candidate Christine Rankin testified that revelations about Craig's alleged romantic impropriety with his press secretary Rachel MacGregor had led her to doubt his suitability to lead the Party.
On 12 September, former party board member John Stringer alleged that Craig had acted inappropriately towards other women and said that there had been so much concern about his relationship with MacGregor that the Party had arranged a chaperone to accompany them whenever they were together. Stringer claimed in his testimony that Craig had dismissed concerns about his alleged sexual impropriety raised by the Party board. He also alleged that Craig had created a "cult-like" atmosphere within the Conservative Party and that Craig had disciplined, harassed, and denigrated members who had disagreed with him. Stringer denied Craig's assertions that there was a "Dirty Politics" strategy within the Party to unseat him and claimed that the Party had lost confidence in their leader. On 14 and 15 September, MacGregor testified that Craig's alleged harassment during the three years of her employment had contributed to her decision to resign two days prior to the 2014 general election. In her testimony, she cited a pay dispute as the final straw in her decision to resign.
On 16 September, Colin Craig took the stand to testify in his defence. While denying that he sexually harassed MacGregor, Craig likened their relationship to that of siblings. He also admitted kissing her but insisted it was consensual. In his defence, Craig claimed that MacGregor had resigned primarily because he had rejected her marriage proposal on the grounds that he was already married to his wife Helen. On 20 September, Craig's wife Helen Craig testified that MacGregor had privately contacted her to confess to having an emotional relationship with Craig and kissing Craig on the night of the 2011 general election. Helen also confirmed that she had forgiven her husband.While Craig had admitted kissing McGregor, he denied undressing or having sexual intercouse with her.
On 21 September, the investigative journalist Nicky Hager testified as an expert witness. In his testimony, he alleged that the information that had been released about Colin Craig on blogs like Cameron Slater's Whale Oil matched the patterns he had documented in his book Dirty Politics, which had inspired Craig's pamphlet "Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas". Brian Dobbs, the former chairman of the Conservative Party, also testified that he and several other board members had expressed their dissatisfaction with Craig and MacGregor's relationship. He criticised Craig for proceeding with the 2015 sauna interview without consulting him first. Dobbs disclosed that Williams had showed him a collection of love letters, poems, emails, and other correspondence between Craig and MacGregor in June 2015 in an alleged attempt to turn him against Craig. Dobbs also criticised MacGregor's resignation for contributing to the Party's disappointing performance in the 2011 general election.
On 22 September, former Conservative Party board member Laurence Day disputed MacGregor's claim that Colin Craig had sexually harassed her on the grounds that Williams had failed to present the incriminating alleged "sext" text message. He also alleged that Williams was trying to use the sexual harassment allegations to turn the party board members against Craig; a position that was echoed by another witness, Family First director Bob McCoskrie. Day and McCoskrie supported Craig's assertion that his relationship with MacGregor had been inappropriate but consensual. McCoskrie defended Craig's pamphlet as a response to the alleged "organized campaign" against Craig.
On 23 September, several Conservative Party staff members including Bev Adair-Beets, Angela Storr, and Kevin Stitt disputed MacGregor's sexual harassment allegations against Craig and vouched for the accuracy of Craig's allegations in his "Dirty Politics" pamphlet. While on the stand, the plaintiff Jordan Williams denied using MacGregor for political gain. On 28 September, lawyers representing both parties entered closing arguments. While Jordan Williams' lawyer Peter Knight cited the letters and poems as evidence of Craig's alleged sexual harassment against MacGregor, Craig's lawyer Mills asserted that Craig had the right to defend himself through his "Dirty Politics" pamphlet. Mills also contended that Williams had broken MacGregor's trust by passing information on her relationship with Craig to other Conservative Party officials and Cameron Slater's blog Whale Oil.
On 30 September, the eleven-member jury unanimously ruled against Craig in Jordan Williams' favour. Craig was ordered to pay $1.3 million in compensation and punitive damages to Williams. While Williams and his supporters have welcomed the decision, Craig's lawyers have announced that they would be appealing both the verdict and the amount of damages.
Despite the unanimous jury verdict and the level of damages, Craig told Radio NZ in an interview the evening of the verdict that he did not regret publicizing the pamphlet and that he 'stood by' the allegations.
On 4 October, the Conservative board chairman Leighton Baker confirmed that Craig had resigned his membership of the party and was not considering any leadership position within the party. Baker also confirmed that the negative publicity had also affected the Conservative Party's support base and expressed doubts that the party would contest the 2017 general election.
House of Representatives
|Election||Candidates nominated||Seats won||Votes||Vote share %||Position[A]||Conservatives in
0 / 121
|59,237||2.65%||9th||Not in Parliament|
0 / 121
|95,598||3.97%||7th||Not in Parliament|
Auckland local boards
|Election year||Candidates||# of total votes||# of seats won|
2 / 146
0 / 146
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Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has confirmed he will contest Murray McCully's East Coast Bays seat in the September election.
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