The breakaway Christian party: a gamble, gambit or godsend?

For the National opposition, a breakaway Christian party is a Hail Mary of the highest order, writes Craig McCulloch for RNZ.

While to Roman Catholic faithful the Hail Mary is an essential prayer and path to redemption, most often nowadays the phrase invokes a last-ditch desperate play with little chance of success.

National Party leader Simon Bridges is downplaying speculation that MP Alfred Ngaro will form a Christian party before the next election and possibly have a tilt at the safe National seat of Botany.

The political strategy makes sense – on paper.

Alfred Ngaro is a charismatic former pastor of Cook Islands descent. He’s widely respected in Pasifika and Christian communities as a voice for moderate conservatism.

Botany, meanwhile, is a true blue electorate with rogue independent MP Jami-Lee Ross currently as its representative. National captured 61% of the party vote in the seat last election. If the party gave a clear signal to its voters and stood aside, Mr Ngaro would have a strong showing.

The risk with a breakaway Christian party has always been that it backfires, splintering the right and eating into National’s own support.

But with Mr Ngaro at the helm, the party could feasibly court a conservative Pasifika vote increasingly uncomfortable with a more socially liberal Labour Party.

Simon Bridges is downplaying speculation that Ngaro will form a Christian party.

And election year will offer plenty of opportunities to leverage that angst with issues like abortion, cannabis and euthanasia all to be in the spotlight.

Socially conservative voters might have typically found a home in New Zealand First, but many are frustrated by its decision to form a coalition with Labour over National.

Previous elections have proved there is a Christian constituency in New Zealand prepared to vote for such a movement. In 2014, more than 95,000 people voted for the Conservatives, pushing them just shy of 4 percent. In 1996, the Christian Coalition reached 4.3%.

With a safe seat in Botany, the party would have to drum up only two or three percent to bring in extra MPs.

But while the strategy may look good on paper, the move would be a massive gamble. The party could crash and burn like so many small parties before it. It would be seen by many as cynical and contrived and could turn off right-wing supporters who see it as such.

For Mr Ngaro then, would the risk be worth it? The staunch National man would have to renounce his party and its safe list spot (at 20) and venture out on his own.

Why take that gamble when National is still riding high in the polls?

Right now Camp National is most likely testing the water, sounding out public and political reaction to the idea.

That way, if the party’s vote does slip and the environment suddenly looks more dire, Mr Ngaro will know whether such a Hail Mary gambit could be a godsend.


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