John Stringer and the Conservative coup

John Stringer has lead the calls from within the Conservative Party to oust Colin Craig not only as leader but right out of the party. He has made himself available to media and also seems to have been leaking information to Whale Oil.

And Stringer has opened up even more via a lengthy article. Stuff looks Inside the Conservative coup (from Stringer’s point of view).

John Stringer took down Conservative Party founder Colin Craig in a messy public coup and has risked the future of the party. He tells PHILIP MATTHEWS what happened and why.

“I’m just sick of it,” he said. “We’ve had this North Korean culture of don’t cough while the leader speaks. But the board process has broken down. Colin has driven a Mack truck through that and it’s in disarray.”

The main why seems to be “a strong and righteous public stand against his erratic and embarrassing former leader”.

It seemed that Stringer was enjoying himself. He is a veteran of conservative Christian politics and this story, on this particular day, was the biggest one he has ever been “enmeshed in personally”. But it was not just about the limelight.

It seemed that Stringer was enjoying the moral crusade, taking a strong and righteous public stand against his erratic and embarrassing former leader.

And plenty of detail follows.

When he wrote to other board members, in another leaked letter, he said it was “unconscionable” to him that some of them could still be supporting Craig. As a former Anglican pastor, he could not.

“The lies, the deceit, the false information,” Stringer said. “The guy’s lying through his teeth and it’s just shocking.”

Even Craig’s brother Andrew quit the board on Tuesday. “Andrew and I are good friends,” Stringer said.

Have the brothers had a falling out? “Let’s put it this way. Andrew’s very disappointed and shocked at Colin’s behaviour.”

That’s the ‘inappropriate behaviour’ that Craig has admitted but not been specific about.

 we are mainly talking about allegations of inappropriate behaviour with former press secretary Rachel MacGregor.

Rumours have circulated for months. When MacGregor suddenly resigned just two days before the election, the timing was “strategic”, Stringer said. He knew exactly what it was about as he had written to Craig several months earlier and told him, “this is what’s going to happen. And that’s exactly what happened.”

“There is no question he perhaps used his position of influence and authority over her to pester her. My understanding is that she rebuffed that on the basis that he was married because she is a good Christian girl.”

She was annoyed enough to take it to mediation at the Human Rights Commission. But so far there are few details in public about what happened.

“There were poems being written, there were letters being written, there were sexts being sent. There are folders full of this stuff. We were told it was unsolicited and unwanted and he kept persisting.”

The romantic traffic was entirely one-way, Stringer believed. When we spoke, just one poem from Craig to MacGregor had appeared on the Whale Oil site; Stringer was expecting more to leak over the following days.

The poem seemed silly but relatively innocent. It spoke of a naive infatuation rather than filth and tawdriness.

“That’s just an opening shot from Whale Oil. They’ve told me they’ve got nuclear bombs to drop this week.”

The ‘breaking news’ post at Whale Oil over a week ago presented as responsible journalism. Since then Slater has reverted to playing dirty strategic dirty political games, and it appears that Stringer is directly involved.

A “direct source” apparently handed this material to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

“That’s all I’d be prepared to say. I know who it is.”

There have been a number of pointers to who this might be – and there’s a strong suggestion it could be ‘Dirty Politics’ with a familiar team involved.

“.The material is actually coming from a variety of different sources. I’ve not actually seen it. I’ve asked to see it. I’m prepared to fly somewhere and see it.”

That’s a curious claim, He has also said “there are folders full of this stuff” and there were claims that some has been shown to the board to convince them to dump Craig.

Is Stringer relying on assurances of evidence from Slater without having seen the evidence himself?

Some of the “sexts”, meaning sexual text messages, have been read to Stringer over the phone. On one hand, this is all good political entertainment and gossip. On the other, the leaking of private messages to Whale Oil is textbook dirty politics, which seems especially problematic coming from a group of people so committed to morals and values.

A moral crusade using and working with the king of political dirt does seem an potential problem.

Craig is a politician and this scrutiny of his private life is arguably in the public interest. But MacGregor? She is a private citizen dragged through the muck, silenced by a confidentiality agreement that Craig seems to have broken.

Stringer agreed that “she is the victim in all this”.

Perhaps. She certainly seems to have been a victim of Craig’s attention.

He was “appalled” as he watched the press conference during which Craig breached confidentiality, as Craig is usually such “a stickler” for legal rules and is the first to reach for a lawyer when it suits him.

“If you in any way breach anything like that, he will haul you over the coals.”

But the detailed information that has been leaked would have to be from someone who had it – either Craig or MacGregor, and the latter is the most likely. It seems that Stringer hasn’t considered the obvious suspicions.

Stringer was a fan of Craig, turned critic. From:

He was a defender of the leader on his own blog, back when others were mocking Craig about wacky moon landing and chem trails theories. He wrote: “You don’t own five successful businesses and one of New Zealand’s largest commercial property empires worth billions in assets in your 40s by being an idiot.”

To:

The more he got to know Craig, the stranger Craig began to seem. Stringer turned into a critic on the board, questioning the way Craig managed people. He noticed that Craig would isolate and turn against critics, such as former candidate Larry Baldock, who was expelled in March.

“The Rachel situation and the sauna stuff is really just indicative of a long pattern of judgment calls and behavioural issues. We were very critical of the management of the campaign.”

And it seems there are also political and party management differences.

During the campaign, Craig released details of the sale of the Lochinver station to Chinese interests. It was classic nationalist politics but Stringer said it cost the party Asian backing.

“I thought it was despicable and racist. There are people who are interested in supporting the Conservative Party who haven’t because of Colin Craig. Cabinet ministers have told me we’ve got a place and they would like us to be there if we just got rid of Colin. I get that from professional people all the time.”

Stringer even believes that the Conservative Party could be in Parliament now were it not for Craig’s “mismanagement” of the relationship with National.

So it seems this is all as much to do with political ambitions as it is moral crusades and inappropriate behaviour.

Leadership conversations started before Christmas, spearheaded by Stringer. There could be a team leadership model so that Craig “wouldn’t be an Ottoman sultan anymore”.

But it became obvious over the past week that none of the presumed likely candidates for leadership – Christine Rankin, Garth McVicar or Bob McCoskrie – were interested. Stringer?

“People are asking me. I’m certainly not putting myself forward, but do we need some political experience, which I’ve had. I have the time. I have independent means. I really do believe in the Conservative Party as an entity and I think it can survive, but it’s really going to take strong decisive leadership over the next few days to make that happen.”

That sounds a bit like he wants to lead but isn’t confident enough to put himself forward.

I rang Stringer two days later for an update.

He had just seen the new Roy Morgan poll which had Conservative support steady at 1 per cent, the same as Act, “despite everything”. And with National slipping, a safe and loyal junior partner looks more necessary than ever.

That’s poor analysis of the poll. The polling period was nearly all before the Conservative Party blew itself up. And while National dropped it was from an unusually high previous poll and they are still polling above last year’s election result.

What now?

Craig was still desperate to return as leader and had reportedly accessed the 9000 names in the party database to solicit grassroots support. Stringer had been locked out of the website while Craig’s staff members deleted all critical comments.

Still, any provisional board of Craig supporters would be “illegitimate”. Even if Stringer was a board of one, he would still have legitimacy. As it stood, he remained confident of bringing in new allies and convincing a few ex-board members to return for a full meeting on Saturday.

It’s difficult to see how a board of one would have ‘legitimacy’. Now the other board members have resigned (all of the others including the chairman have now) there would surely have to be a party election of officers.

Apparently their rules require a quorum of two. That Stringer can’t hold on to one other board member is as damning for him as it is for Craig.

“This has been one of the most catastrophic political meltdowns in New Zealand history and our constituency is still there,” he said. “The Colin Craig stuff is a sideshow really. We can outlive this and then we can start to rebuild.”

And Stringer has played a significant role in the Conservative catastrophe.

His optimism was admirable. I had noticed in his online biography that he had a MA in Classics from Victoria University. That meant he knew what a pyrrhic victory was. No matter who won, Craig or Stringer, the Conservative brand might be so damaged as to be worthless to the victor.

“That’s fair,” he said. “That’s something we will see played out over the next 12 months. The feedback I’m getting from party members is that they are rallying and we will put some distance between us and Colin Craig. People will begin to respond to the fact that we have a different Conservative party, not framed by Colin’s agendas and his kookiness.”

Craig is reported to be talking as if he has the popular support of remaining members.

It’s looking like a major split in what remnants of the Conservative Party there are.

It looks like Stringer has been driven by his political ambitions and played by others with more selfish ambitions.

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. Pete Kane

     /  27th June 2015

    PG said: “It looks like Stringer has been driven by his political ambitions and played by others with more selfish ambitions.”

    And that’s an important point. None of those fronting the attacks on Craig especially appear as ‘white nights’ protecting the innocent. Although that may change if Whale Oil releases some really damming evidence. I mean you have to assume, at the very least, he’s got at least some pretty ‘unhelpful’ material up his fin.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Queequeg Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s