Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A referendum

So, there's going to be a referendum on asset sales. Good. Having spent a number of mornings standing around in the cold collecting signatures, I'm glad that its resulted in something.

Some people are calling the exercise pointless, on the basis that the referendum is not binding and that the government can make the vote irrelevant by delaying it and selling everything. They're wrong. The point of a non-binding referendum is to publicly warn the government to change its course. The results will matter, in that they will be a direct threat to National's Ministers that continuing down this road will see them lose power (and their inflated salaries). But its not just them it threatens - it should also sharply focus the mind of National's long tail of junior Ministers and backbenchers on their political futures: whether they will achieve their desired promotions in a third term, or whether they will have a future at all. For some, this referendum signals the loss of $140,000 a year (plus perks) - providing them with a strong incentive to oppose this policy from within.

Its also a tool to focus public anger. And seen in that light, every arrogant statement John Key makes that the referendum is a waste of money (unlike the $100 million in pork he's already given to his finance industry cronies) and that asset sales will continue regardless of what us dirty peasants think is helping to build that anger, and signing his own political death warrant. New Zealanders don't like arrogant politicians, and this is reminding everyone of what John Key really is.

Finally, a successful referendum provides a mandate for policy reversal. A strong showing will give opposition parties a base from which to demand renationalisation (ideally at a loss to the thieves), and to impose a referendum requirement on future sales. And that mandate will be even stronger if Key deliberately runs a fire sale to circumvent the referendum process.