I’m against selling our state assets. I’m impressed by Labour’s argument that you can only sell an asset once, and that, as soon as you’ve sold it, you’ve lost the revenue stream forever. Forever is probably the key word. You have to calculate the dividend loss for an indefinite period that ends – never. And I’m not impressed by the Government’s intention to use the money from asset sales to fund hospitals and schools. Funding for hospitals and schools shouldn’t come from selling the family silver, it should come from general taxation. If it doesn’t, where are you going to find the cash to fund health and education next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, when the assets are gone?
I’m familiar with the Government’s answer: ‘We aren’t selling off the lot; we’re keeping a controlling 51% share and we’ll still have the dividends from that.’
Well, 51% of the dividends! And I hope you won’t think me unkind, but I wouldn’t trust you as far as I could throw you on this. When you run short of dough, and you will run short of dough, you’re going to sell the rest. Of course you are. You’re philosophically opposed to the idea of governments owning and running businesses. That’s the private sector’s job. And this is where you’re out of touch with the essentially chauvinistic view of a majority of Kiwis: ‘Hey, this is our bank; it’s got our name on it – Kiwi Bank; this is our airline, it’s got our name on it – Air New Zealand; this is our power station – we built the bloody thing! This stuff is all ours and you want to flog it off to foreigners.’ Ours and foreigners are probably the key (but not Key) words in this debate.
So it’s pretty clear what side I’m on – ‘Get your grubby hands off our assets.’ The polls seem to suggest that that’s the majority view among voters. But is it enough to win Labour the election? Those same polls would seem to suggest that it isn’t. Why? Well perhaps I can use myself as an example. I’m against the sale of state assets. I think selling them can’t be justified on economic grounds; and I share the nationalistic sentiments of so many Kiwis that they’re ours and we should keep ownership and control of them here. But my objections are essentially intellectual rather than visceral. I think we shouldn’t sell Kiwi Bank, Air New Zealand, our power companies and the rest, but it isn’t a gut issue for me.
My gut issues are to do with poverty, child abuse, unemployment, a decent wage, access to education and health care, the protection of the weak and disadvantaged, an enlightened justice system not founded in punishment and revenge… These are just some of the issues that, to answer the question put to Goff and Key on the first TV debate, I would march on the streets for. But to stop asset sales? Probably not. What I’m trying to say is that Labour is right to oppose the sale of state assets, but it has placed too much reliance on the fact that most Kiwis oppose those sales, and too little reliance on the actual depth of feeling behind that opposition.
The same may well be true of its policies on a capital gains tax, compulsory superannuation, raising the retirement age and so on. These are sensible and courageous proposals. But their appeal is to the intellect and not to the gut. For most ordinary people, they are not vote-changing issues. And where they are vote-changing issues, the change will disadvantage rather than favour Labour. I’ll be voting Labour on the 26th of November, not out of habit, but because my gut tells me that this government seeks to retain office by rewarding the rich and not merely neglecting but blaming and punishing the poor. That, rather than asset sales, should, I believe, be Labour’s core message in the remaining two weeks of the campaign. And of course, whether you want a show-pony or a man of quiet integrity to run the country.