Two sensible left wing commentators in as many days have started to questionÂ theÂ validity of Labour’s focus on asset sales as a strategy.
Lew at Kiwipolitico was damning:
If it wasnâ€™t already over on the night of 26 November 2011, the argument about the popular legitimacy of the governmentâ€™s plan to partially privatise selected state-owned enterprises was finally put to bed when the pre-registration website for the Mighty River Power floatÂ fell overÂ shortly after it went live. Whether this was a result of intentional underprovisioning to generate buzz or genuine organic demand doesnâ€™t matter: within 24 hours100,000 peopleÂ had pre-registered interest in buying shares. Thatâ€™s about one-third of the signatures opponents of the scheme tookÂ seven monthsÂ to collect to force a citizens initiated referendum. The battle over whether these assets will be sold has been well and truly lost, and expending more political firepower on it is futile. The left needs to start organisaing around how they will be run.
When people like Lew are telling them the game is up, it really is:Â
If they persist with beating the dead horse of ownership, the risk is that the government will strengthen its case that the state simply isnâ€™t fit to own businesses, paving the way for the rest of the SOEs to be sold as soon as they can secure a mandate to do so. The only alternative I can see for the opposition is a pledge to re-nationalise the sold assets. If theyâ€™re going to do that they need to get on with it â€” if they reveal this policy after the Mighty River Power float goes ahead the risk isnâ€™t the argument that the state shouldnâ€™t own businesses; itâ€™s that Labour and the Greens are parties of big-government kleptocracy, trying to turn Aotearoa into the Venezuela of the South Pacific.
I think Labour, if they are serious about opposing asset sales, really needs to clarify what they will do. Either they will re-nationalise them or some of them or they will asset sales stand. If they let them stand then their campaign can rightfully be called a stunt with no electoral merit.
Chris Trotter likewise points out the fatal flaws of Labour’s campaigning:
NATIONALâ€™S MANDATE to partially privatise the Stateâ€™s energy assets is strongly contested by the Governmentâ€™s left-wing opponents. As a political strategy this is not only misguided but risky.
The groups behind the Citizens Initiated Referendum (Labour, Greens, CTU, Greypower) do not appear to have considered the possibility that as many people may end up registering their interest in acquiring shares in Mighty River Power as have already signed their CIR petition. With more than 200,000 Kiwis expressing an interest in the first ten days of the three-week registration period, the enthusiasm for buying shares in the peopleâ€™s assets would appear to be at least as strong as the peopleâ€™s opposition to their sale.
The larger danger in contesting Nationalâ€™s mandate is that it forces the Left to second-guess the electorateâ€™s intentions.
Trotter too raises the spectre of nationalisation of the sold assets. When will Labour come clean?