I've been debating on this blog with Paul Williams whether Murray McCully's statement on Agenda that National is extremely unlikely to to re-instate the RNZAF strike wing abolished in 2000 by labour, is a major shift in policy.
I don't think such a statement is a major revelation, but to be fair to Paul, Press Political Editor Colin Espiner has blogged that this is:
“a major U-turn from National's previous position and a ringing endorsement for helen clark's defence policies from her political enemies.”
Now when I read this I still wasn't convinced this is a major u-turn, as it had been my impression that National had given up on restoring the strike wing since it lost the 2002 election. Mainly because the longer you go without one, the much much harder it is to reinstate one – especially as all the pilots have got jobs overseas.
But one of the hazards of being a former “insider” is that what you think is common knowledge, is not. When you work in Parliament you often have discussions on policy and soon work out what way the wind is blowing. Hence I don't think I have heard anyone seriously advocate it should be reinstated since 2003 or so, but that doesn't mean that was the public perception.
But did National still publicly hold out in 2005 that such a reinstatement is likely? Well I went to National's 2005 Defence Policy. And you know there is not a single word in that policy about the Air Force Strike Wing. Nope, not even a word.
So bearing in mind the 2005 election policy was silent on the strike wing, I still have to disagree with both Colin and Paul that this is a major change.
And if we go back into the Herald archives (bless them for keeping them all searchable), we find an August 2005 story which says “Mr Carter confirmed that any prospect of re-establishing the Air Force strike wing was remote”.
I rest my case.
I also disagree that this is a vindication for the decision. It isn't vindication, except for Father Time. It's just a reality that the longer time goes on, the harder it is to reverse something.
If you asked all 48 National MPs, do they think the decision to get rid of the F16s was a bad decision, I'd guess 40 – 45 of them would say yes. But if you also asked them do they think National in 2009 should try and reinstate the strike wing, then I'd predict 47 out of 48 would say no.
The same goes for Labour. Ask the 50 Labour MPs if they agree with National's 1991 benefit cuts and all 50 of them will say no. And again ask all 50 if they think Labour should reverse those benefit cuts, and 40 or so will say no.