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September 10, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Political Porn With Hamish

KEY COCK-BLOCKED BY ASSET SALES DELAY; LABOUR RE-JOYCES

David Shearer must be grinning.The announcement by the Prime Minister last week that the first of the five state assets will be delayed until March next year provides fertile ground for both him and his party.

There is no polling, as we go to print, indicating whether putting the sales on hold has affected the popularity of either of the major parties. To be frank, the short term effect on the polls doesn’t matter anyway. What will have the left—and Labour in particular—smiling is the longer term implications of the delay. These are essentially two-fold.

First of all, it means that there is now a possibility that ballot papers for a Citizens’ Initiated Referendum will be posted out prior to any shares being sold. Before the announcement of a delay, it was looking like the referendum was going to be held after the event. That being said, even if the referendum is prior to Mighty River’s partial sale, it will still be after the event. It’s non- binding and John Key is right, there was a referendum in November 2011 called the general election.

MMP is noted as a system of compromise, which generally means parties have to compromise on policies during negotiations to secure power. In this instance, it was the electors who compromised, choosing to back National despite the unpopular asset sales policy presumably favouring other aspects of the party over the alternative(s). The referendum is, however, great politics and the left will have a field day of calling Key undemocratic and unrepresentative should a resounding “no” be returned in advance.

An interesting scenario could play out yet, as it is pretty much certain that the public will vote against the sales. As such, National supporters may choose to spoil their ballot, as a significant percentage of spoilt ballots would call the legitimacy of the result into question, effectively ‘Trojan Horsing’ the left.

Second, the delay means more sales closer to an election. Key and party strategist Steven Joyce would like to have seen the sales go through as quickly and smoothly as possible. The delay appears likely to see the last of the five assets sold in 2014, giving way to an ideal platform for Messrs Shearer, Peters and Norman. The plan for National appeared to be about pushing through unpopular policy early in the term and leaving the latter part to try and regain popularity ahead of the election—something advocates of a four year election cycle will know all about.

This delay is not what Joyce, Key or National want, especially without a stable coalition partner. The delay will mean the sales will be firmly in the minds of the voters as they go to the ballot box. Key could lose the benefit of showing the electorate any consumer surplus gains from the mixed ownership model, as there may be insufficient time lapsed to have data to point to.

The stable coalition partner question is likely to have been a factor behind the delay—Key playing ball with the Maori Party. Sharples and Turia have threatened to walk a couple of times now, so Key needs to put some effort into repairing the relationship—or at least do enough to convince the duo that they gain more with National than Labour.

There has been plenty of talk of a National- New Zealand First agreement in 2014, with speculation that holding the retirement at 65 was partly to keep Winston in the picture. Keeping the Maori Party open to the possibility hedges Key’s bets, something he knows a bit about from his previous career.

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