Friday, March 20, 2015

Expanding the window

The Herald this morning was full of panic over whether ACT's David Seymour would stay true to his party's ideals and vote in support of Tracey Martin's bill to overturn National's crony convention centre deal. As it turns out, Seymour has now admitted that he's just a National Party footstool and that he'll vote as instructed by Steven Joyce, which is a useful thing to have demonstrated. But with member's bills passing the bill often isn't the point anyway. What the bill does is put National's corporate cronyism on the political agenda. It reminds people that they actually have a choice about whether to accept corruption. And it reminds everyone that, while politicians say they can do nothing because "a deal's a deal", in fact they can overturn it at will. The question, as always, is whether they want to.

Its the same with NZ First's Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill, which by outlawing future investor-state dispute provisions, would effectively sink our participation in the TPPA as it currently stands. The National-Labour "club" are united in their backing for free trade, and unconcerned at our laws being subject to a foreign veto to protect corporate profits (oh yes, Labour pretends concern - but at the end of the day, they'll vote for free trade just as they always have). The public are more uneasy. And what this bill does is remind everyone that despite the hand-wringing and denials of power from politicians, they can do something about it, and we have a choice on this.

What both bills do effectively is expand the Overton window. At the moment the idea that democratic governments can break corrupt, shitty deals after the fact, or refuse to sign up for them in the first place, is unthinkable to "serious" policymakers. Now its not, and they're going to have to think about it, because Parliament will think about it. Meanwhile, forcing parties to take a public stand on this in the House will let the public hold them accountable for their positions. And that in turn allows the democratic feedback process to function, forcing parties to take account of the public's views. No wonder the Herald hates the idea!