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Could Christian soldiers march no-mates National into office?

Alfred Ngaro. Photo.Getty Images
It appears we may have the second coming of a Christian party at the next election. Well, actually, it is at least the fifth coming of one. Ex-National MP Graeme Lee formed one, Graham Capill ran another, Colin Craig founded the Conservative Party, and now Brian and Hannah Tamaki are starting one (he’s been there before, from 2003-7).

Putting aside the fact that Capill was convicted of child sex offences after quitting Christian Heritage and Craig had a peculiar public meltdown with his press secretary 48 hours before the 2014 election, faith-based parties seem unable to win more than 4% of the vote, short of the 5% needed to enter Parliament without an electorate seat. However, the right leader might just get them in the door.

Hence the speculation that National MP Alfred Ngaro might be given a safe seat, à la Epsom and Act, to start a new Christian party. In Parliament, the National Party is Nigel No-mates and the support of a Christian party may push it over the top and back into power in 2020.

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This is a little hopeful, but it is a better strategy than leader Simon Bridges closing his eyes and wishing that NZ First and the Greens would fall below 5% of the vote and exit Parliament, letting National and Labour go head to head.

Cook Islands-born Ngaro is a genial chap and a pastor. Chances are he would pull a sizeable chunk of the Auckland Polynesian vote from Labour and, if other churchgoers followed, he may get the crucial 5% for a new party.

Giving Ngaro a winnable seat could be a better guarantee of a support party for National than its “blue green” imaginary friends, who seem to have vanished without trace. The problem is, which seat? National voters in the East Auckland constituency of Botany, left reeling when elected MP Jami-Lee Ross turned independent, were hoping for a real National candidate, and many are reacting badly to media speculation that they might be sacrificed to Ngaro’s Christians.

Of course, with Act moribund on about 1% support, the loyal centre-right voters of Epsom may be persuaded to drop David Seymour for a potentially more popular Ngaro. But that’s a big “maybe”.

Ngaro would need a key issue to ignite the Christian vote and capture 5% of the vote. Homosexual law reform and gay marriage are now law and opposition to them is an unlikely vote-catcher. His best bet is probably opposing cannabis law reform, which will be put to a referendum during the election.

Many voters implacably oppose legalising marijuana. Some Christians seem to believe there is an 11th commandment that says “Thou shall not smoke dope”. This could be a good banner for Ngaro and his Christian soldiers to march under, gathering up other clean-living folk to push the party over the 5% barrier into Parliament without having to win an electorate seat.

National’s biggest problem is that Labour has gone solidly centrist, chomping into former blue votes. It is not making the mistake of Labor’s Bill Shorten in Australia, who campaigned on substantial tax hikes for many, forgetting the maxim regarding turkeys and early Christmases.

Here, Labour is projecting a warm and fuzzy brand, despite such apparent setbacks as the KiwiBuild programme.

A looming danger for Labour is the property market going into full free fall and eroding by too much a property owner’s sense of wealth. Politics is a tricky tightrope to tread.

This article was first published in the June 1, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.