Pheonix rising? Part One. Same old Aussies, always cheating.

If, by chance, you were to ask Football Federation Australia to show a bit of Anzac spirit, the game’s top brass would more than likely rifle through their drinks cabinet searching for a fancy liquor they will never find.

Just as there would be no bottles overflowing with the milk of human kindness, especially the ones labelled “Wellington Phoenix”.

All this is a long way of saying that when it comes to the future of New Zealand football, those in charge of the game in the Lucky Country could not give a toss whether there is one or not.

Ever since Australia switched from FIFA’s Oceanic Confederation to its Asian cousin ten years ago, football authorities across the Tasman have turned their backs on New Zealand and other South Pacific nations.

The All Blacks, rugby league’s Kiwis and the Silver Ferns netball team all have games, if not whole series scheduled every year with their Australian counterparts.The last time the All Whites saw battle against the Socceroos in an international was in 2011.

The Auckland Warriors, along wth the same city’s Breakers’ basketballers play in domestic Australian competitions without causing much angst being being displayed by administrators on that side of the Ditch.

Federation Football Federation Australia no doubt rues the day — or should that be roos the day — when the sole New Zealand franchise in the Hyundai A-League was transferred from the hapless Auckland Knights to the rapidly put together Pheonix.

The federation’s ill-feelings were nakedly apparent during negotiations last year over the extension of the Phoenix’s license which the club required to remain in the A-League.

The federation’s antipathy was equally evident when the league’s new season kicked off earlier this month.

Despite being part of the A-League for nigh on a decade, the Phoenix have won their first game of the season on only one occasion.

There has been far more optimism than in past years that key signings made during the off-season will not only lift the quality of the team’s play — especially in attack — but will also strengthen the whole squad so when players get injured their are replacements who can do the job just as well.

So there was disappointment that the Pheonix went down 0-1 to Melbourne City in the opening round.

But there was also much frustration.

The game was lost as much off the pitch as on it.

The Phoenix were deprived of five senior players — Kosta Barbarouses, Andrew Durante, Michael McGlinchey, Louis Fenton, and Matt Ridenton — who were on
international duty for the All Whites in Mexico and the United States.

Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick pleaded with the federations’ officials to allow the match to be postponed to a later date.

But he got nowhere. Under FIFA’s rules, once players are called up to represent their national team, their clubs are obliged to release them.

That rule even applies to so-called “friendly” internationals like those two games the New Zealand national team played in the Americas.

There are stiff penalties — including the loss of points in their domestic league — for clubs that flout that rule.

Taken in isolation, such regulations would obviously severely disadvantage clubs with squads stacked with foreign players.

But — as in the case with the Phoenix — there are clubs where international call-ups for the domestic national team can also reek havoc.

FIFA has dealt with this dilemma by the introduction of “international windows”.

This device enables countries to agree to a “co-ordinated calendar” which sees them playing one another during brief periods set aside for that purpose in their domestic season.

Each such window lasts nine days and thus includes Saturday and Sunday, the two days often preferred for the scheduling of international matches.

The nine-day limit is deemed to be sufficient to enable players to fly to wherever their national side is playing, allow some time for pre-match training, take part in the match itself and then fly back to the country where their club is located.

The crucial thing, however, is that while the window applies, no games take place in domestic competitions, be that league or cup.

This is all very straight forward. It is just common sense.

But go tell that to Federation Football Australia.

It has repeatably refused to follow suit despite calls to do so from other A-League managers and coaches, not just Merrick.

The federation claims “FIFA windows” would result in drastic cuts to broadcasting royalties which are a vital source of revenue for A-League clubs.

That would be so detrimental to the A-League that it would halt its expansion and could make it too difficult for some clubs to continue operating.

The federation insists broadcasters put a premium on “consistency” in the scheduling of fixtures to keep advertisers and sponsors happy. To ensure viewer ratings are high enough to meet that criteria, people have got to know when the matches are on the television so that they can establish “viewing patterns”.

That is a rather archaic statement in the digital age where the positive is that viewers are no longer tied to the television set and have other options for watching sport.

The obvious negative is that they now usually have to pay extra to watch live sport — thus creating a rather large incentive to be well-informed about programming schedules.

The federation also argues that football has to be careful not to annoy broadcaster because there is huge competition for the advertising dollar from AFL, rugby league and Super rugby union.

All of that offers no comfort for the Phoenix who face Catch-22. If the club asks New Zealand Football not to select players from the club’s squad the All Whites end up being handicapped.

This is a crucial period for the national team. The All Whites have qualified for next year’s Confederation Cup finals in Russia. They could well end up being drawn to play football giants such as Germany and Portugal. Ironically, they could end up meeting Australia, who have also qualified.

On top of that, there are qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup finals, which are also being hosted by the Russians.

It is thus vital that the All Whites arrange matches with quality opponents during international windows.

Merrick is adamant the national team takes priority. His big worry, however, is that there are more such windows on the horizon this season.

Of particular concern is that the Pheonix’s highly-talented and exciting striker Roy Krishna, who is a Fijian international, may be absent for some Key club games.make a

Merrick makes a valid  point in arguing that the A-League’s integrity is at risk of being compromised by the fact that some clubs will play a depleted Pheonix.

Those which do not and instead come up against the full Wellington team and lose will have grounds to gripe.

It is also worth noting that Australia’s best players are contracted to overseas clubs because it is much more lucrative to do so.

The consequence of that is not surprising: the most recently announced Soceroos squad contained 23 players, but only two of those came from A-League clubs.

You can only wonder what Football Federation Australia would do if the ratio was reversed. But that is highly unlikely to happen.

Slightly more likely is a possible promotion-relegation system which would see poorly-performing clubs drop to some kind of second tier.

The home crowds for the Pheonix now average around the 8000-mark. They would plummet if supporters were subjected to watching second-rate Australian teams. The club would fold.

Ultimately, the A-League will want expand into Asia.
That is where the big television audiences reside.

That is where the big money is. And for Football Federation Australia, that seems to be its only bottom-line.


A Little goes the wrong way

When the time comes to hand out the annual award for the silliest things politicians have said or done during the year, Andrew Little should be on the short-list.

National MP Nuk Korako and his ridiculous private member’s bill on the advertising of lost luggage at airports will he hard to beat.

But the Labour leader’s dismissal of Helen Clark’s view that parties on the left must “command the centre ground” to win elections as “a pretty hollow view” comes close to edging out the National backbencher for this unwanted award.

Just what possessed Little to pour cold water on Clark’s supposition heaven only knows.

Sure, he may not like living in the shadow of a predecessor in Labour’s top job, especially the kind of lengths cast by Clark.

If he disagreed with Clark’s view, he would have been best advised to keep his mouth shut.

Clark fought five general elections as her party’s leader, winning three of them and losing two.

She knows from experience — especially the bitter kind —what she is talking about.

But it is a party on the right which has rammed her message home in no uncertain fashion, such that it should give Little considerable pause for thought.

There is the old cliche about a week being a long time in politics. But it took National just three days to show that nothing is off its agenda when it comes to ensuring it has an unshakable hold on the centre-ground of domestic politics.

It was cynical. It was nakedly expedient. It demonstrated both the arrogance and desperation of a party which has long been in power.

It involved U-turns and flip-flops which left you wondering whether National really believes in anything beyond power for power’s sake.

But it will probably be darned effective. Labour likes to believe that voters will punish governments which shift tack and look very messy in the process.

It seems to be more the case that voters want policy solutions that show the Government is listening to them. They are not too bothered how that is done.

John Key understands this — as does Bill English even though he is motivated by ideology.

Together the pair have unchallenged power to do things their way.
National has emerged from what has been the party’s roughest patch during its current time in power refocused, though not necessarily re-energized.

Labour never saw it coming. It all began last Tuesday with English causing surprise by indicating that the Government would become a player in the private housing construction sector.

That was an admission or defeat, but it was a victory for realism.

The Government has sought all year to find remedies to alleviate its biggest political headache — the Auckland housing shortage which has become ever more complex in its various, but interlocking manifestation.

Up till now, National has tackled this crisis which it has refused to acknowledge is a crisis with all the co-ordination and aplomb of a headless chicken.

English flagged that over the next ten years, the Government would be a provider of a “significant” number of medium-density, medium-priced housing in the Auckland market.

There was no detail as to how National was going to go about doing this. Having repeatedly ridiculed Labour’s promise to do much the same thing, National is definitely putting a low price on consistency.

It is instead making a priority of neutralizing one of the few matters where Labour has secured a distinct advantage, namely its promise to build 100,000 new and affordable homes over a ten-year period.

Almost in his next breath, the Finance minister was re-iterating the Government’s intention to accelerate the building of new state houses — something he has argued previously as being pointless.

Drawing far more attention, however, was that day’s announcement of changes to immigration settings which will make it a lot harder for families resident in New Zealand to secure entry for close relatives still living in their home countries.

But the other part of the package, which covers skilled migrants, is likely to result in only a very modest cut in the numbers being granted residency.

Along with New Zealand First, Labour dismissed the package as window-dressing driven by National’s panic at being on the wrong side of the immigration debate.

The two Opposition parties were right. National wants to appear to be doing something without actually doing something. Whatever National came up with would never be enough to silence Winston Peters. But may be enough to quieten Labour which seems to be far less inclined to make swinging cuts to current migrant levels.

The Beehive would have been delighted that evening’s One News headlined its coverage with the word “crackdown”. It was nothing of the sort. Not being willing to bother themselves with the technical detail of immigration policy, that was the word that many wanted to hear, however.

But National wasn’t finished. Little had planned a major policy announcement for Thursday covering law and order. Given he was speaking at the Police Association’s conference that day, you didn’t have to be a genius to predict what it would be about.
Little had anyway given the game away on radio on Monday.

Labour’s promise of an extra 1000 police in its first term was the perfect example of the kind of policies that Helen Clark’s doctrine demands.

But National had plenty of time to respond, with Police Minister Judith Collins saying the Government was also looking at a “substantial” boost in numbers.

It can be presumed that National is not going to allow Labour to outflank it on an issue which the centre-right sees as being very much its territory.

There is one policy area where Labour will not be endeavouring to outflank National — tax cuts. English sounded unusually bullish about the possibility of an announcement of such cuts in next year’s Budget following the release of latest set of the Government’s accounts during the week.

Should the Budget be in surplus while it is in power, Labour will use the extra money on meeting social needs.

Labour is punting that the media reports over the past six months or so revealing the high degrees of homelessness and other forms of social deprivation have shocked many New Zealanders.

National’s willingness to talk of pushing through yet another round of tax cuts suggests it does not believe there is any such seed-change in the air. At least, not yet.

That may be partly because the media have exhausted all the obvious angles that are available in stories covering poverty.

The ruling party will anyway argue that any tax cuts will be targeted at helping the poor.

So far the opinion polls have yet to register any significant shift in party support to give pause to National to worry that it will suffer a political backlash as a result of the inexcusable failure of government agencies to foresee that those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap would end up suffering inordinately from the chronic shortage of residential properties in Auckland.

Much, if not all, of National’s hectic activity last week was not solely driven by the party’s need to shore up its defenses in critical areas and realign itself with majority public opinion.

The timing was also crucial .

We are now 12 months or less away from the next election.
The Christmas-New Year break is less than two months away. John Key does not want to find himself watching a resurgent Labour Party in positive mood going into election year.

Whether that happens or not largely hinges on the coming byelection in Mt Roskill.

National is trying to strait-jacket Little so that there are few if any issues which he can exploit because the point of difference between the two parties is in Labour’s favour.

The obvious example is housing. National’s abject handling of the whole caboodle meant one thing: if Labour could not get the better of National on that question, it could not get the better of National on anything.

Labour has unquestionably got the better of National on housing, largely thanks to the untiring work done by Phil Twyford, Labour’s sharp-minded housing spokesman.

But his and others’ efforts have yet to pay any dividend in political terms.

The byelection result will be better measure than the polls of whether Labour is gaining any ground in Auckland or just standing still.

In 2014, Phil Goff held the seat for the party with an 8000-plus majority. But National won the party vote in the electorate, securing just over 42 per cent of that vote as against the nearly 36 per cent recorded by Labour.

Despite that, the chances of National capturing the seat are remote.

In Labour-held seats where the party vote has has gone National’s. wayin the general elections both before and after a byelection, voters have stayed loyal to the Labour candidate in that byelection in sufficient number to get him or her into Parliament.

The Greens’ decision not to stand a candidate will help Labour, but likely only marginally if the result follows the 2014 pattern which saw the Green candidate pick up a mere 5 per cent of the constituency vote in 2014.

When it comes to door-knocking in the electorate and getting people out to vote on byelection day, Labour’s Auckland political machine will be of huge help through being able to pool Labour’s city-wide contingent of volunteers.

They will be able to focus solely on one seat, rather than having to spread resources across a multitude of electorates demanding attention as is the case in general elections,

The Labour camp is making the obigatory noises about “not being able to take anything for granted” in order to hose down any expectations that the party will win and win big.

But with Labour’s support in opinion polls still struggling to get above 33 per cent on a consistent basis, Little really does need a big win in Mt Roskill.

Defeat would be an absolute catastrophe. A narrow victory would be little better. Even a comfortable, but not crushing victory would not do much to change the current status quo in national politics.

Labour would start 2017 where it left off in 2016 — stuck in the doldrums with National pilfering its policies.

Perhaps that was why Little was so acerbic when asked about the truth and value of the Clark Doctrine.

When he does make a grab for the centre-ground, he finds Key is in his face. Another 1,000 police officers is a big deal. It is fair guess that the policy won’t have the backing of everyone in the party. There  will those who will be thinking the money to implement the policy could be better utilized elsewhere.

The police policy, however, is exactly the kind of policy which Clark would advocate under her doctrine. But Little has to watch his back.

Key does not have to worry about operating outside his party’s ideological parameters. There are two reasons for that in addition to him being a conservative pragmatist by instinct. First, in the early days of MMP, the pundits said National did not have any friends on the right to enable it to rule without having to be party to a an antagonistic and unstable coalition government with all that entails by way of concessions and compromise.

Key has made a mockery of the Jeremlahs’ predictions not once but three times, and possibly may even do so a fourth time next year.

While some policy areas remain out of bounds, MMP has not been a major handicap for Key And therein lies the second  reason. His administration has been able to run a centre-right reform agenda which is just tough enough to satisfy those on National’s  right without offending those all important voters who sit in mass in the Centre.

The end result?  Labour puts out policy. If Key  can spot even a hint of blue in it, he pilfers it.

Little may have convinced himself that he could make a lot more progress when it comes to lifting Labour’s parlous share of the vote by heading leftwards with policy promises that not even Key could dare to match.

But that did not work for Goff orDavid Cunliffe when they did likewise when they led the party.

Such a strategy requires that the wider electorate is also moving in the same direction at the same speed.

In that vein, Clark enjoyed a huge advantage which will almost certainly be denied to Little.

Clark surged to power in the 1999 election because her adversary was a tired National Government which did highly unpopular things which it persuaded itself were necessary for the voters’ own good.

It displayed a high degree of machismo to give the impression of strength which everyone knew it lacked. That was because it was a minority Government hostage to a rabble of waka-jumping MPs who remained in Parliament after the collapse of the National-New Zealand First coalition government.

In marked contrast to then, there is still no discernible mood for change despite National being in its eighth year in power.

It is highly unlikely that the Mt Roskill byelection will provide the kind of stunning victory for Labour which would change those dynamics.

Unless things go horribly wrong, the byelection is not quite make or break for Little. But everyone will be judging whether his performance bodes well for him really footing it with Key on the 2017campaign trail.

Little cannot afford to leave the task of winning the byelection to Labour’s candidate Michael Wood.

Little needs that platform. He needs it to lift his current basement-level profile.

it is time for him to make the step up.




A man in a big hurry

Phil Goff is suddenly talking like someone who already has Auckland’s mayoral chains hanging from his neck.
Something has definitely changed. The focus, emphasis and tone of his remarks and replies have undergone a subtle, but noticeable switch.
He would deny it until the cow’s come home. But he now sounds like someone has made the transition from “if I become mayor” to “when l become mayor”.
This shift was apparent when he was questioned in depth during Monday’s edition of Morning Report on his call for the imposition of a stiff tax which foreign nationals buying a property would have to pay on top the purchase price.
The idea isn’t new. But there has been little debate here about the efficacy of what is otherwise known as stamp duty. National does not appear to be enthusiastic about a mechanism which might cool the Auckland property marker. Labour did not include the device in its recent-released housing package.
But Goff was very keen. Gone was politician’s caginess that can make him sound flat and underwhelming. He did not try to fudge the issues which would arise from the introduction of such a levy.
Goff spoke with the authority of someone confident of a decisive victory on Saturday. He is a man in a hurry. He cannot wait until he gets his hands on the levers of the most powerful job in Auckland.
He wasn’t being arrogant. Goff would be one of the very last politicians to say or do anything which might be misinterpreted as such.
Donald Trump might go on ad nauseum about being on the yellow brick road to certain victory in America’s presidential contest.
Such boasting in advance of the ballot papers being counted is as alien to Goff as the likelihood of finding life on Mars.
Goff suffers no such Trump-like delusions of grandeur. There is no time in his working day to indulge in bouts of self-glorification or self-congratulation. And we are talking about working days which make other workaholics look slothful.
Geoff’s capacity for work is legendary — so much so that he can seem robotic.
But presuming he is no robot, he would not be human were he not contemplating what needs to be done following the announcement of the winner of the mayoral contest.
He will have some kind action plan on hand to ensure there is no political vacuum following his election. He will list his immediate priorities, as well as setting out a broader agenda for change. One of the more essential tasks is to rebuild public confidence in the Auckland Council.
He would be derelict in his duty, not least to himself, if he had nothing prepared on advance. But that won’t happen.
It has been obvious ever since Goff threw his hat into the mayoral ring that he was going to win and win easily.
But the certainty of his victory will have had the effect of heightening voters’ expectations of what his mayoralty ought to be able to deliver.
Given that pressure will intensify, he will want the strongest mandate possible so that he can exercise maximum influence and leverage at the head of the council table.
There are two things which he cannot control ahead of Saturday afternoon. Those are the size of his majority and whether it would have been larger but for the endemic non-voting in local authority elections.
There is a danger that because Goff is a dead cert, people will not have bothered to vote.
But the same scenario applied in Len Brown’s in 2013, his popularity was such that movers and shakers on the centre-right did not put up a serious candidate.
John Palino thus became the default candidate. He got thrashed by Brown. But he topped the 100,000 mark in terms of votes.
That seems to have deluded him into thinking that in a multi-candidate contest like the current one, he could secure enough votes to come through the middle.
But Palino is not solely responsible for what will become very apparent on Saturday afternoon.
In a word, slaughter. Absolute slaughter.
The Charge of the Right Brigade has been an utter debacle from start to finish.
It is Auckland’s version of The Three Stooges, but without the laughs.
Together the three add up to much less than the sum of their parts.
To end up with three candidates fighting over the same segment of the vote requires a special kind of incompetence.
It was equally inept — and arrogant — try and impose a candidate on the electorate simply because he or she ticks all your ideological boxes.but has nothing that appeals to the mainstream voter.
Vic Crone might have a chance were the voting public confined to those who inhabit city’s corporate board rooms. Unfortunately for Crone, it isn’t.
Throwing someone with no experience of politics into the lion’s den against someone who has seen `all that can happen in politics several times over is almost an act of cruelty.
Mark Thomas is the only one of the three candidates who is politically savvy. So much so that he has obviously suffered great torment from the hopeless position that he, Crone and Palino find themselves.
Despite what would have been great pressure to pull out of the mayoral race, he has instead created a new political phenomenon — the candidate who isn’t a candidate.
He conceded it was “inevitable” Goff would win “unless the community gets more engaged”.
Rather than quit, he would instead use the remainder of his campaign to “make people aware of the lack of change a Phil Goff mayoralty will bring”.
It is more likely the community — which tends to punish disunity in all its forms — will have become disengaged from Thomas.
Whether Thomas’s de facto withdrawal of his candidacy will have helped Crone is very much a moot point.
She is further handicapped by a fourth candidate who will further split the centre-right vote — Goff.
He is a liberal when comes to economic management; he is a conservative on law and order.
He has handled the many and varied ministerial portfolios with such competence that it is difficult to remember anything going off the tracks under his watch. Having been Trade minister, he knows how to negotiate deals. That is a vital attribute for the mayor of the country’s biggest city, given the priorities of local and central government do not always coincide.
In short, Goff is someone who can be trusted to do the job no matter how difficult or daunting.
His opponents have tried to turn the argument around by saying his experience counts for little. They claim that the length of time he has been in Parliament renders him incapable of providing the fresh ideas desperately needed to lift the aspirations of Aucklanders and turn the metropolis into what Chrone calls”a world-class city”.
True, Goff lacks the X factor when it comes to being a source of inspiration. That was clear during his relatively brief stint as Leader of the Opposition.
But the former Labour leader remains a very skilled politician — as was shown by his backing for the introduction of stamp duty.
A lot could be read into Goff’s positioning on how best to slow the rate at which prices are rising, if not bringing them to an abrupt halt.
His remarks about stamp duty were designed to show that what he says about resolving Auckland’s housing crisis is not just talk — and that he is open to any idea which might ease the pressures on the demand side of the house price equation.
More than anything, however, he was sending a message to the National-led Government.
Legislation would have to be passed by Parliament to enable such a levy to be imposed on foreign buyers. Local authorities do not have the power to do so.
National has been most reluctant to curb demand-side pressures by drastically cutting immigrant numbers or bringing in measures which would make property speculation not worth the bother.
But Goff is flagging that he is not going to be silent when government actions — or the lack of them — are detrimental to Auckland’s interests.
Likewise, Goff is unlikely to put up with Cabinet ministers rubbishing the Auckland Council’s planning and resource consent procedures as a scapegoat for them taking so long to realize the number of new houses being constructed each year was woefully short of that required to cope with Auckland’s fast-rising population.
The claim that Goff is someone who is past it cuts no ice with voters. They see someone who is reinvigorated by the new challenges he will be facing.
The time had come for him to leave the Labour caucus and Parliament altogether. That was not because he was doing a bad job. Goff always gives his all and more no matter what task lands on his desk.
It is fact of political life, however, that party leaders have to freshen up their line-ups on a fairly regular basis by reallocating portfolio responsibilities and rewarding those who are doing a good job by moving them up the caucus rankings.
Long-serving MPs can get in the way of that process. A change in personnel means a break from the past. In Goff’s case, his support for the free-market policies master-minded by Sir Roger Douglas has been the one thing in his past that political opponents have let him forget.
But it has not disadvantaged his mayoral campaign. For Aucklanders, it is a thing very much in the past. The far more pressing matter is what happens tomorrow.
Goff will clean up in west Auckland. He will likewise capture vast swathes of the mortgage-belt elsewhere across the city. He will soak up what votes are cast in low-turnout south Auckland. He will do very well when it comes to securing middle-income voters who play a large part in determining the victor in any election,
He has a good chance of making deep inroads into territory which is the preserve of the centre-right; areas whose inhabitants would rather be stretched on a wrack than cast a vote for anyone who has even the slightest whiff of Labour about them.
Geoff has made it a little bit easier for the affluent to depart from their ingrained voting habits by running as an independent.
He will be trusting them to return the favour. They will have to have good reason not to have done so. Why? The answer is because Goff is the most capable candidate by more than a country mile regardless of what ever measure you choose to use.
Crone might argue Goff is long past his use-by date. But she nay well discover the shelf-life of a failed candidate can turn out be rather short.

Craig comes an awful cropper (twice); National counts its blessings it never struck a deal with the Conservatives’ flawed leader

The decline and fall of Colin Craig is a tawdry tale which has all the ingredients of a Mills & Boon romance gone terribly wrong.

It is a bodice-ripper on steroids; a grotesque fable of unrequited, but apparently unconsummated love.

Someone should turn the whole sorry affair into a steamy soap opera, like the ones which run in the wee small hours of the afternoon.

National should daily offer up sacrifices to the political gods as thanks for the party not being part of the script for such a programme.

That would have been the case had National struck an electoral deal with Craig to ensure centre-right votes were not wasted.

Much of the news coverage of Craig’s defamation trial focussed almost exclusively on the titilating, but often conflicting evidence offered up by a motley collection of political misfits.

That was hardly surprising. The proceedings in the Auckland High Court provided seemingly inexhaustible amounts of what is called “good copy”.

The media, however, did not get a clear answer to the unspoken, but paramount question which hung over the courtroom. What was the degree of adultery committed by the former leader of the Conservative party?

In the end, the court had to take Craig at his word that — to use his immortal declaration — he had never taken his trousers off in the company of Rachel MacGregor, his estranged former press secretary.

The pantomime of recent weeks was brought to an abrupt end last Friday afternoon when the jury in the trial returned to court to deliver its verdict.

Its finding that Craig had defamed Jordan Williams was not a great surprise.

Such a verdict was almost inevitable under New Zealand’s tough libel laws, given what Craig had said about Williams at a press conference last year and the accusations contained in a pamphlet which Craig had distributed to some 1.6 million households.

What was a shock was the jury’s award of $1.27 million in damages to Williams. On initial reflection, the record sum seemed both utterly ludicrous and deeply disturbing.
The jury should have considered whether the courts were the place to fight what was essentially a political battle

The jury could have still found in Williams’ favour. But it could have set a useful precedent by imposing token damages of just a single dollar.

At this stage of proceedings, you might be asking Jordan Williams who? Well may you ask. Williams has the pretentious-sounding title of “executive director and co-founder” of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The what? Well may you ask.

The Union is not a trade union. It claims to be 100 per cent independent of party politics. That it feels it has to make such a declaration is a fair indication that at a minimum the organization is aligned with a particular political party.

The Union is comprised of a handful of like-minded individuals firmly ensconced on the right of politics. Their self-appointed role is to root out examples of government waste of taxpayers’ money. They are doing so on the expectation that people like themselves on high incomes will be rewarded by having to pay less tax.

Williams is a political neophyte. He is one of the many gadflies who feast on the more extreme elements of the Body Politic, be it on the left or right of the spectrum.

When you involve yourself with the affairs of a party of the Conservatives’ nature, you really are operating on the fringe.

Williams would argue that he was a white knight who came to the rescue of a friend, namely MacGregor.

But if so why did he put her through more hell than she had already suffered by taking Craig to court? Whatever loathing she might have for Craig and desire for revenge, having her personal life painted all over town day after day would have still been traumatic.

She was not the only one whose emotions got the better of them during the trial.
Williams exudes self-confidence and undoubted intelligence and is not slow in ensuring everyone knows this. But on at least a couple of occasions, he appeared distinctly uncomfortable.

If he harbours ambitions of entering Parliament one day, he will need to develop a much thicker hide.

Everything is fair in love and politics.The courts should not be as a mechanism for exercising political vendetta. If they were to be used in such fashion, they would do little else.

That point was made by political blogger Martyn Bradbury. Describing Williams as “manipulative” and akin to a “venomous spider”, Bradbury told the court that Craig’s leaflet was “an appropriate response to a pack of political sadists”.

The jury, however, decided Craig was the one with all the venom. Its unanimous verdict was that Craig should be punished.

The jury seems to have set the level of damages at such a height because of the level of malice and ill-will they considered Craig had shown towards Williams, the copious amount and extent of the libelous material, the widespread distribution of the offending pamphlet and, finally Craig’s subterfuge which culminated in him being outed as the “Mr X” , who posed as an anonymous whistleblower in the leaflet.

Seen in that context, the scale of the damages is not as precedent-setting as some in the mainstream media may be fearing.

Craig is — or perhaps more accurately — was the Frank Spencer of New Zealand politics.

Nothing he says or does seems to embarrass him. Whether it be conspiracy theories surrounding the Moon landings or leafleting the Prime Minister’s electorate because John gKey was “too gay” to represent the people of Helensville, Craig seems to be irresistibly drawn to the extreme, the bizarre, the mysterious or the mythical.

Craig lives  on the edge. If the earth was flat — something he may or may not believe — he would fall off it.

But it now turns out the credibility of the House of Craig — what little was left in it — was already in free-fall prior to Friday’s High Court verdict.

Craig might feign nonchalance regarding the huge bill he must pay in damages. (‘, it will be interesting to see what Williams does with the windfall.

Not so easy for Craig to dismiss is a Human Rights Review Tribunal decision which required him to pay nearly $130,000 to MacGregor for repeatedly breaching the confidentiality agreement which was a vital condition of the pair’s pay dispute and MacGregor’s claim of sexual harassment.

The tribunal’s report was suppressed until Craig’s defamation trial was over. It did not mince words, saying that Craig had “comprehensively, deliberately and systematically”  breached the confidentiality of his settlement with MacGregor.

The breaches had been “extensive, calculated and engineered to attract maximum publicity”.

They had caused MacGregor “significant humiliation, significant loss of dignity and significant injury to feelings”. The tribunal’s order that Craig pay MacGregor $128,780 in damages plus costs is the largest sum it has ever awarded for emotional harm.

The tribunal’s ruling is the final kiss of death for any resurrection of Craig the politician should he be stupid enough to think he can make a comeback if not soon then later.

Craig’s future in politics is easy to assess. He has no such future.

He deserves no sympathy. He will get none. He has used his wealth as a weapon to threaten legal action against almost anyone who has spoken ill of him.

He has taken this to ridiculous lengths, most prominently in taking exception to some perceived slur on his character made by the website, The Civilian. He ended up thinking — or was persuaded to think — that suing satirists was not such a good idea after all.

Likewise his similar threat to take action against Russel Norman. The former Greens’ co-leader’s uncompromising response was a Dirty Harry-like invitation to Craig to “make my day”. Craig subsequently chose not to do so.

The High Court’s verdict and the accompanying damages will be viewed by the majority of people as very much Craig’s just desserts.

Assessing Craig’s future in politics is easy. He has none.

Heaven knows what he thought he was doing by thinking he could transform a working relationship into something that was far beyond the platonic.

Heaven knows how he thought he could keep juggling all the balls in the air without dropping at least one.

Craig is hardly the first politician, however, to have become besotted with one of his staff.

He may have kept his trousers on. But in the Court of King Colin, however, he was seen as an emperor with no clothes, judging from the observations of other staff working in the Conservatives’ head office.

In their minds, MacGregor’s relationship with Craig had blatantly gone far beyond that normally expected between press secretary and politician.

With rumour and innuendo mounting at an exponential rate, Craig’s affaire de coeur was doomed not to have a fairy-tale ending.

It was instead destined to be more the stuff of Brothers Grimm.

One question remains. And it is an important one. What would those who used his liaison with MacGregor to dump him from the party leadership been so enthusiastic about doing so had Craig succeeded in crashing through the 5 per cent threshold and secured six or seven  seats for his party in the new Parliament?

The answer is an unequivocal “no”. Like all fowl fattening themselves by picking and pecking at the perks and privileges of life in the parliamentary farmyard, these political turkeys, had they made it to Wellington, would never have voted for an early Christmas.

Like moths to a flame, some of those who signed up with the Conservatives did so because the party offered a much easier route into Parliament than was the case with National.

By ensuring the likes of Christine Rankin were high up the party’s list, Craig hoped to raise the Conservatives’profile and make the party look something more than a one-man band.

in doing so, Craig was sowing one of the seeds of his destruction.  Rankin was als9 the party’s chief executive. She was much perturbed by Craig’s behaviour. She had joined the party because of its principles. She rapidly lost coofidence in Craig.

But the real killer for Craig was MacGregor’s resignation. Coming just two days before the election, it was timed to perfection, completely eradicating Craig’s by now slim hopes of breaking the threshold.

On election night, the Conservatives  won just under 4 per cent of the party vote — a result which was only marginally better than the near 3 per cent which the party had secured in their electoral debut three years earlier.

The disappointment rapidly morphed into a behind-the-scenes campaign to force Craig to step down. Not only had he blatantly and brazenly infringed, cheapened and thus undermined the very morals and values which were the party’s core foundations.

He had wrecked the rationale for the party’s existence. How could the party proselytize the virtues of its policies when the leader had — as a minimum flirted with breaking the seventh commandment: thou shall not commit adultery?

But the plotting to rid the party of Craig was at the same time a four-landed highway which to nowhere fast, of course. Craig was the founder and funder of the party. Without him, there would be no party.

As so often is the case with minor parties, however, electoral failure is followed by finger-pointing, recriminations and infighting in general which becomes an end in itself.

The protagonists often prefer to split the party than cave in to factional opponents.
Once the bellicosity and belligerence erupted onto the public stage, it was all over for the Conservatives.

It was not so much a case of destroying the village in order to save it. It was more a case of destroying the village come what may.

What can be learned from this debacle?  Two things. Political parties which are the playthings of their founder and funder are always vulnerable to some life-destroying crisis be it generated within the party or outside.

The Greens have understood the dangers of someone believing they are bigger than their party. That might be an unstated reason beyond the one of gender why they have a constitutional structure which requires two co-leaders be elected.

In contrast, New Zealand First could easily and quickly disintegrate once Winston Peters eventually exits. The grooming of former Labour Party heavy-hitter Shane Jones as Peters’ sucessor may do little to stabilise things.

If Peters leaves a vacuum, there will be chaos. That is because whomever succeeds him has precious little chance of matching Peters’ finely-honed political skills, popular appeal and razor-sharp political acumen. The party will start dropping in the polls. Infighting will spread and intensify.

Peters makes politics look easy. It isn’t.

The other lesson to be drawn from Craig’s demise is 6hat religion-based political parties have consistently failed to get themselves elected to Parliament despite the possibilities offered by MMP.

The reason is simple. New Zealander tend to be conservative of mind. They occasionally break out of that mode and elect Labour governments. But they tend to keep National in power for longer.

The true meaning of conservatism is to “conserve” changes made by another administration,  but manage them better.

Natoonal fits that prescription to a tee.

Parties which want to ditch reforms and return the country to doing things as they used to be done are defined as “reactionary”.

Craig’s Conservatives could not be more misnamed. Graig’s Reactionaries would not be easy to market, however.

The dismal performances of Christian=based parties have also confirmed that New Zealanders are averse to religion being mixed with politics and vice versa.

There are just too few people who want to see religious values having a real impact on the political discourse and action. Furthermore, there are already political parties which would argue their values and policies are very close to Christian beliefs.

The centre-left parties’ promises to attack social and economic disadvantage is the obvious example.

None of the above, however, will deter people from trying to establish a Christian-based voice in Parliament.

When it comes t0 would-be political messiahs, there always seems to be a would be politician who ignores history and is convinced there is a large latent Christian vote just waiting to be tapped, be it the Conservatives’ Colin Craig, Destiny Church’s Brian Tamaki, Christian Heritage’s Graham Capill or, going back to the 1990’s, the Christian Democrats’ Graeme Lee.

The latter had been a long-serving National MP prior to founding his own party. Lee’s party formed an alliance with Capill’s outfit to jointly fight the 1996 election under the banner of the Christian Coalition. The coalition registered 4.3 per cent of the vote. It remains the high-water mark for the Christian vote.

Tamaki’s 2004 prediction that his church would be “ruling the nation” by the time it celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2008 proved to be a trifle optimistic. Destiny New Zealand failed to get even 1 per cent of the vote in the 2005 election.

Capill’s party dissolved after its leader was sentenced to nine years’ jail in 2005 after pleading guilty to charges of sexual molestation and rape involving girls between the ages of five and twelve.

Add to those embarrassments the several mliions of dollars that Craig has poured down the drain in a vain bid for self-glory in the form of his doomed attempt to turn his Conservative brand into a real force in New Zealand’s domestic politics. Then add his current disgrace which has seen him sink fast an animal stuck in quicksand.

All up, you can say without question that the track record of the county’s Christian parties has varied between being just dismal to being truly pathetic.

The saving grace — to mangle the famous dictum of the English political philosopher   Thomas Hobbes — is that while their lives have been nasty and brutish, they have also been mercifully short.