Barring a miraculous outbreak of common sense the sale of at least some state owned assets is going ahead. Should the parties of the Left continue to oppose the process? Lew At Kiwipolitico (loudly cheered on by Bryce Edwards) doesn’t think so. I think Lew is wrong. Here’s why:
If it wasn’t already over on the night of 26 November 2011, the argument about the popular legitimacy of the government’s plan to partially privatise selected state-owned enterprises was finally put to bed when the pre-registration website for the Mighty River Power float fell over shortly after it went live. Whether this was a result of intentional underprovisioning to generate buzz or genuine organic demand doesn’t matter: within 24 hours100,000 people had pre-registered interest in buying shares. That’s about one-third of the signatures opponents of the scheme took seven months to collect to force a citizens initiated referendum. …
Lew is comparing Apples (online registration for what people hope will be free money) with Oranges (signatures painfully collected by hand by volunteers standing in shopping malls). Of course online registration works quicker – isn’t that obvious? As far as I know the asset sales petition collected its signatures more quickly than any previous petition (which is a more valid comparison to make).
Labour mistook asset sales for a high-salience issue and tried to run a campaign on it, when in reality too few cared enough for it to work. I have no reason to disbelieve the assertion that most people don’t want the assets sold. But the evidence of the election, the sluggish uptake of petition signatures, and the general lack of traction gained by the Labour party, for whom this has been the only coherent policy frame since the election, show that it is not an issue about which people are strongly exercised.
20/20 hindsight. No the issue didn’t win the election for Labour. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, or didn’t have an impact on the outcome (note National’s majority of 1 in the House).
The notion that the government, having spent the entire year 2011 campaigning on it, lacks a mandate to proceed with asset sales is utter nonsense,
I actually agree with this (unlike some Lefties). National has an electoral mandate to proceed. But that doesn’t mean that the Left lacks a mandate to oppose. Part of an Opposition’s job description eh?
Plenty of bad policies are popular — three strikes, scaremongering about immigration, and most of the government’s welfare reforms are good examples. Despite what Josie Pagani might say, all are inimical to Labour and Green politics. How can they oppose these policies, if they’re so popular? Conversely, how can they insist on passing unpopular policies?
Lew seems to be arguing that popularity is the final arbiter of what governments should and shouldn’t do. That’s a very slippery slope, especially with the given point that “plenty of bad policies are popular”. Sometimes leadership means doing the unpopular thing because it is right.
Whether they “win” the referendum or not, at best Labour and the Greens will be vulnerable to legitimate accusations of hypocrisy whenever they propose policy that is merely somewhat popular, as opposed to being very popular. The will have demonstrated that consistency doesn’t really matter, and that could do deep harm to their long-term credibility.
I think the first point is simply nonsense, as above (right and wrong trumps popular and unpopular). As to the second, yes consistency does matter. Which is exactly why the Left should continue to oppose asset sales. To stop would be exactly the kind of inconsistency that Lew thinks is deeply harmful.
The discussion has changed
The left has lost the argument about asset sales. Barring some sort of deus ex machina it’ll go ahead and will probably be a net vote winner for the government. But the apparent mismanagement of Solid Energy has given Labour and the Greens an opportunity to reframe the state-owned enterprise discussion, away from who owns these businesses to how they are run.
The way the SOE’s are run is a legitimate second line of enquiry, but I don’t think it’s a suitable “replacement” to opposing asset sales.
The Left has opposed asset sales, and (rather than being blown by the winds of political expedience as Lew suggests) should remain consistent and keep doing so. Because asset sales are wrong, and we should oppose that which is wrong and damaging to the country.