Monday, April 14, 2008

National Party snake oil?

The leader of the conservative National Party, John Key, was reported to have announced an abrupt U-turn in he party’s polices: There would be no sale of state-owned assets during a first term, should they win the next election. Key said on TVNZ’s, "I don't want us to spend a whole lot of time skirting around the edges of something that won't ultimately make the New Zealand economy go a lot faster. We're not back in 1984."

He was asked if that meant there would be asset sales in a second term, and Key responded, "If there's any change to the position, then we'll come back to the people and seek a mandate for that."

This sounds like something positive, the party backing down from policy stretching back nearly a generation to sell off everything that’s not nailed down, plus many things that are. Can we believe them?

Personally, I find it hard to believe that they’re abandoning core policies of the party. But maybe they’ve found a way around the issue.

On TVNZ’s “Breakfast” programme today, Prime Minister (and Labour Party Leader) Helen Clark suggested that Key may have been meeting with merchant bankers with an eye toward increasing outside investors in state-owned assets (like companies). This would have the effect of diluting the government’s shareholding meaning a sale of assets without actually selling them. Key could have his cake and eat it, too.

But another reason I’m sceptical is that only recently National announced plans for school buildings to be privately owned and rented back to schools. A separate plan to end of any limits on what doctors can charge for primary healthcare reminded me of how in the 2005 campaign, National Party leaders planned on moving the country to an American-style privatised healthcare disaster system.

John Key has been working to convince New Zealanders that the party he leads has moved back toward the centre. Given its history, and especially its recent history leaning to the far right, I have trouble believing that this change of heart and direction is genuine. I’m just not buying it.

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