Espiner on Key

Has been a somewhat messy couple of days for John Key as he took a day to clarify National’s position on Auckland Airport and also gave a wrong impression on National’s treaty policy.

I’d guess that with such a huge lead in the polls, there has been a semi-natural inclination to try and avoid saying anything which might upset the pundits.  I don’t mean this to suggest that National will not have any policy which differs from Labour – I am sure it will. But that when Labour manufacture an issue, such as Auckland Airport, an inclination not to be forced into declaring whether or not one will reverse it is understandable. But a failure to clearly state what one will do in response can be worse than taking a position, even an unpopular one.

I’m pleased to see today that this has not happened with Labour’s attempts to buy Toll. Instead of fudging on their position, I am very glad to see NZPA report the following from National:

A National government would consider selling off a renationalised railway company, the party’s finance spokesman Bill English said today.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen confirmed today the Government had made an offer for Toll’s rail and ferry business, but the Crown and company remained poles apart about a fair price.

Mr English said the last thing New Zealand wanted was the Government to own the rail company.

“We certainly wouldn’t be buying Toll. The worst thing for our railway network would be for the Government to take it over using the OnTrack company, (the State-owned enterprise which runs the rail tracks) which is chaired by the Labour Party president Mike Williams,” Mr English said.

“We would be back to strikes in school holidays on the ferries and featherbedding in the system. We need to look after the taxpayers’ interests and the network and the best way to do that is to have a competent operator.”

Governments had a bad record on operating rail companies and he did not think Labour would be any better.

If the purchase was completed then a National government would get out of the business as quickly as possible.

Excellent.  A nice strong attack on the Government, a reminder of the bad old days, and a very clear response.

Now going back to Espiner, he writes:

The wonder, then, is that he did not say this loudly and clearly on Tuesday. There were certainly grounds for attacking Labour. The Government has intervened late in the piece, effectively shifting the goalposts. It has all but admitted it has done so for populist reasons. Allowing foreign investment in our companies has never bothered it in the past – indeed, Labour used to welcome it.

Labour remains responsible for selling some of New Zealand’s most strategic assets of all, such as Telecom, the railways, and more recently, the national electricity grid.

Nevertheless, Labour has snookered National over this one and both parties know it. I’d hate to think that Labour announced the new provisions purely to trap Key, because that would not only be the height of cynicism but terrible government. I’m sure it didn’t. But it would surely have crossed Labour’s mind.

I suspect they did actually. Not solely, but their decision was a terrible unprincipled act. That is why it should have been attacked strongly.

I understand Labour has a series of other traps for Key this year, and it’ll be interesting to see whether National’s leader is a little more careful where he stands.

As I said above, the response to a possible buy back of Toll looks much much better.

Will it make any difference to the polls? The short answer is I don’t believe it will. Not in the short term anyway. The average punter doesn’t watch Parliament with a clipboard keeping score of the exchanges (at least I hope they don’t or they’re as sad as the press gallery).

Heh so true 🙂

But it might hurt National during an election campaign.

That is the concern.  There’s only a few months to tighten things up.

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