Key has gone for a gamble again; but not the gamble some of the pundits were expecting. On the asset sales, he’s chosen flight over fight, giving up on floating Mighty River Power this year and pushed the timetable back to the next window of opportunity in 2013. But the real problems the asset sales face now isn’t Maori action, it’s the state of the economy.
Expectations are very different now from when the idea of selling infrastructure assets was first mooted in the National Party. Slowing electricity demand, pressure on electricity prices from consumer resistance and possible regulation of asset revaluations, as Geoff Bertram outlined this morning on National Radio, as well as dropping coal prices all mean that the brighter future of return to surplus via asset sales is now just a shimmering and ever-receding mirage.
On top of that is the looming referendum, which now will certainly erupt in the middle of any sale process and well before the next election. More and more New Zealanders are likely to come to the conclusion that the whole sale idea is bankrupt, and the best solution is to keep the assets in government hands.
I think MOM has turned up her toes and the asset sale process is effectively dead. It won’t surprise me if Key decides he wants to put his family and his own future first, not put himself through another election, and does another runner before 2014. There will also be a lot of very disappointed National Party big donors who want their money back.
And Joyce v Collins will be a brawl; a battle of the arrogants.
As they say, it’s an ill wind.