Conservative Party of New Zealand

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Conservative Party of New Zealand
Leader Leighton Baker[1]
Secretary Kevin Stitt
Deputy Leader Elliot Ikilei
Chairperson Simon Gutschlag
Founder Colin Craig
Founded 3 August 2011
Student wing Young Conservatives
Membership 1,200 (August 2017)[2]
Ideology Conservatism
Social conservatism
Fiscal conservatism
Environmentalism
Agrarianism
National conservatism
Political position Centre-right[3] to right-wing[4]
Colours Light blue
MPs in the
House of Representatives
0 / 120
Website
www.conservativeparty.org.nz

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 in June 2015.[5] Its current leader is Leighton Baker, since January 2017.

The Conservative Party contested the 2011, 2014 and 2017 general elections, without winning any seats. It had two members on a local board in Auckland from 2013 to 2016.

Philosophy and policies[edit]

The Conservative Party advocates fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, and the use of binding referenda.[6]

Policies include:

Leaders[edit]

No. Leader Period Time in office
1 Colin Craig 2011–2015 3 years, 10 months and 16 days
2 Leighton Baker 2017 – present 10 months and 20 days

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

The Conservative Party was founded by Colin Craig, a businessman who had organised a protest march in 2009[17][18] and who had stood in the 2010 Auckland mayoral election, polling third with 8.7% of the vote.[19] Craig announced the formation of the Conservative Party on 3 August 2011[20] at a media event in Newmarket, Auckland.[21][22] It gained the 500 members required for registration within a month of its founding,[23] and the Electoral Commission registered it on 6 October 2011, allowing it to contest the party vote in the 2011 general election.[24] Its party logo was registered at the same time.[25]

While the Conservative Party is not overtly Christian, many leading members of The Kiwi Party joined it, indicated by the change in colour here.


2011 election[edit]

The Conservatives contested the November 2011 general election. In October 2011 they announced electoral alliances with The Kiwi Party and New Citizen Party, in which their candidates stood instead as Conservatives.[26][27] The party ran a list of 52 candidates, including Kiwi Party leader Larry Baldock and former New Citizen Botany candidate Paul Young.[28] Craig stood in the Rodney electorate.[29] The party spent NZ$1.88 million on its campaign, the second-highest of any party,[30] with most of the money coming from Craig himself.[31]

During the campaign the party portrayed itself as able to work with either of the two main parties, National and Labour.[32] It highlighted its socially conservative policies of raising the drinking age to 21, parental notification for abortions, and repeal of the "anti-smacking" law.[32] It announced its opposition to National's policy of selling state assets.[32]

The party gained 2.65% of the party vote (59,237 votes), but failed to win any seats in Parliament.[33] Craig came second in Rodney, gaining 8,031 votes – 12,222 votes behind first-time National Party candidate Mark Mitchell.[34]

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.[35] Colin Craig stated that if the Police found any impropriety neither Larry Baldock nor Peter Redman would be allowed to stand as Conservative candidates.[36] The police subsequently declined to lay charges in the matter.[citation needed]

2011 to 2014[edit]

In May 2013, the party appointed high-profile former Work and Income New Zealand chief executive Christine Rankin as its chief executive.[37] The party contested the 2013 Christchurch East by-election; candidate Leighton Baker polled 487 votes (or 3.65%) in the preliminary count.[38] The party also contested the 2013 local elections, fielding 27 candidates in Auckland.[39][40] The party gained 50,218 votes overall, and two candidates (Christine Rankin and Callum Blair) were elected to the Upper Harbour Local Board.[41]

In February 2014, the-then Green Party co-leader Russel Norman alleged during a speech at the Big Gay Out event in Auckland that Colin Craig held misogynistic and homophobic attitudes. Norman's comments prompted Craig to file a defamation suit and to demand that Norman issue an apology. Norman and the Green Party announced that they would contest the lawsuit.[42] 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.[43]

2014 election[edit]

In November 2013 speculation arose in the New Zealand news media[44] about a possible accommodation between the Conservatives and the National Party for the 2014 general election. Comments by Prime Minister and National Party leader John Key led to speculation of a coalition in which the National Party would not run a candidate in a constituency on Auckland's North Shore, such as Rodney, or East Coast Bays,[45] or the newly formed Upper Harbour.[46] This would assist the Conservative Party in meeting the threshold for entering parliament. Ultimately, National ran candidates in all these electorates. After some indecision,[47] Craig elected to stand in the East Coast Bays electorate.[48] John Key announced on 28 July 2014 that the National party candidate for East Coast Bays, Murray McCully, would not step aside to assist the Conservatives into parliament, nor would National urge its members to vote for Craig.[49]

On 3 August 2014 Colin Craig announced that party chief executive Christine Rankin would stand in the Epsom electorate.[50] On 7 August 2014 the party announced that Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar would stand,[51] 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.[52] National Party leader John Key ruled out endorsing McVicar.[53]

The Conservative Party announced the top five positions for its party list on 22 August 2014. The top five were leader Colin Craig, Epsom candidate Christine Rankin, Garth McVicar, Melissa Perkin, and Māngere candidate Edward Saafi.[54] 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.[55]

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.[56][57]

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.[12] 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.[58] Shortly before the general election, the party's press secretary Rachel MacGregor resigned, citing Colin Craig's alleged manipulative behaviour.[59]

The Conservative Party received 3.97% of the party vote and won no electorate seats, meaning that it did not meet the threshold to enter Parliament.[60][61]

2015 resignations of leader and board members[edit]

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 (with David Farrier on the debut episode of Newsworthy) 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.[62][63][64] Craig later announced that he would consider contesting the party's leadership if he had enough support.[65] 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.[66]

The television channel One News also reported that there was a disagreement between Craig and several of the party's board members. One member, John Stringer, accused Craig of not following the party's constitution. 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.[67]

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."[68][69] According to the Herald, several board members of the party including 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 leadership.[70]

During the week that immediately followed Craig's resignation, all remaining members of the board, with the exception of 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 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.[71] 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 leadership. Craig's remarks were dismissed by Stringer, who became the party's interim leader.[72]

On 5 July 2015, 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 them. 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 Craig's membership was invalid.[73] On 7 July, Craig 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.[74][75] 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.[76]

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.[77][78]

On 10 August 2015, Stringer responded by lodging a complaint against 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.[citation needed] In addition, Stringer criticized Craig's management of the Conservative Party's 2014 election campaign.[79] The following day, Stringer submitted a dossier of documents to both the police and the Electoral Commission.[80] On 14 August 2015, Jordan Williams launched a counter-suit against 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.[81] On 11 September 2015, Craig filed a retaliatory defamation suit against the party's former chairman, John Stringer. Stringer indicated that he would contest the charges in court.[82]

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 Stringer as other reasons for his decision not to contest the party leadership.[83] 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.[84]

Litigation involving Colin Craig[edit]

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.[85] On 2 February 2016, the 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 Stringer and former party leader Craig.[86] 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 remained ongoing.[87]

In September 2016, the Auckland High Court began hearing Jordan Williams' defamation lawsuit against Craig, expected to last five weeks.[88] 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.[89]

On 12 September, the party's former board member John Stringer alleged that Craig had acted inappropriately toward 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's 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.[90] 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.[91]

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.[92][93] 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.[94] While Craig had admitted kissing McGregor, he denied undressing or having sexual intercouse with her.[95]

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".[96] Brian Dobbs, the former chairman of the Conservative Party, also testified that he and several other board members had expressed their dissatisfaction with Craig's 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.[97]

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.[98]

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.[99] 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 Stephen Mills QC 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.[100][101]

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 welcomed the decision, Craig's lawyers announced that they would appeal both the verdict and the amount of damages.[102][103]

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.[104]

On 12 April 2017, a High Court judge dismissed the awarding of $1.27 million to Jordan Williams, saying that the amount was too high and a "miscarriage of justice" had occurred. Justice Sarah Katz said that the amount, a record figure in New Zealand, meant that the jury must have concluded that Williams was successful in all of his claims, whereas he had not been, and that they must have ignored her direction to not take into account any meanings that Craig proved were true. Justice Katz directed that a retrial take place if lawyers did not file submissions on whether the court should substitute the damages award.

Colin Craig Resigns from Party[edit]

On 4 October 2016, Conservative Party 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 party's support base and expressed doubts that the party would contest the 2017 general election.[105]

2017 election[edit]

In January 2017, the party announced that Leighton Baker was the new party leader.[1][106]

On 5 March 2017, the Conservative Party protested its exclusion from a political debate being hosted by the University of Auckland Debating Society scheduled to be held on 9 March. The Conservative Party had initially been invited in November 2016 but the Debating Society subsequently decided to limit participation to parties which were or had previously been represented in the New Zealand Parliament due to the number of participants. The Party issued a press statement on the internet news site Scoop.co.nz accusing the Debating Society of trying to stifle diverse views.[107][108]

On 26 May 2017 the New Zealand Electoral Commission awarded the Conservative Party an allocation of $51,848.00 for use in the 2017 election.[109] The party is campaigning using the slogan "hit the reset button".[110]

The Conservative Party announced a party list of 12 candidates.[111] Party Leader Leighton Baker stood in Epsom.[112]

On 9 June 2017 Elliot Ikilei was announced as the Manurewa candidate and as the party's new Deputy Leader to contest the 2017 election.[113] He has taken a pro-life stance and supports the party's policy of instituting citizen initiated referendums.[114]

The Conservatives gained only 0.2% of the party vote (6,253) during the 2017 general election and failed to win a seat in Parliament.[115]

Election results[edit]

House of Representatives[edit]

Election Candidates nominated Seats won Votes Vote share % Position[A] Conservatives in
government?
Electorate List
2011 52 30
0 / 121
59,237 2.65% 5th[116] Not in Parliament
2014 64 20
0 / 121
95,598 3.97% 5th Not in Parliament
2017 27 12
0 / 120
6,253 0.24% 8th Not in Parliament

Auckland local boards[edit]

Candidates Total votes Seats won Local board(s)
2013 27/146 67,106
2 / 146
Upper Harbour
2016 0/146 0.00
0 / 146

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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