Saturday, January 12, 2013

Now; about that mandate...

Chris Trotter has set a cat amongst the pigeons. In his Stuff column this week, he talks about asset sales and mandates, noting:

The target of 310,000 signatures has been reached - or so we are told.
The coalition of interest groups and political parties seeking a citizens' initiated referendum on the National Government's plans to partially privatise the state-owned energy generators has yet to submit its petition to the Clerk of the House for checking.
Even if this final hurdle is cleared, the petitioners will still have to find their way around a much more daunting obstacle: the Government's mandate.
That the Government has a mandate to sell off 49 per cent of Mighty River Power, Genesis, Meridian and Solid Energy is hotly contested by the four organisations petitioning for a referendum.
Grey Power, the Council of Trade Unions, Labour and the Greens all deny the legitimacy of the Government claiming a specific electoral mandate for its partial privatisation programme. According to the petitioners, the voters have, at best, given the Government a general mandate.
To claim a specific mandate, they say, it must first ask the electorate a specific question - hence the need for a referendum.
This argument would carry more weight if the National Party's main challenger in the 2011 general election, the Labour Party, hadn't specified National's privatisation plans as the best reason for voting it out of office.
"No asset sales" was Labour's most coherent slogan in 2011. That only 27.4 per cent of the voters were prepared to back its flagship policy with their ballots strongly suggests that privatisation was not the electoral game-changer Labour's focus groups had suggested. 

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that we agree wholeheartedly with Chris Trotter on the issue of National's mandate for partial privatisation of four State-Owned Enterprises. A mandate was explicitly sought, and duly delivered.

Chris Trotter goes further however:

The Greens were much less willing than Labour to give the privatisation issue such critical electoral salience. They promised New Zealanders "a richer future", of which the retention of state assets was certainly an important, but not essential, feature.
How, then, can the Greens argue that National's claim to a specific electoral mandate is illegitimate when their own policy pitch was so general?
If National isn't entitled to claim a specific mandate for asset sales, then, by the same logic, the Greens cannot claim one against them.
The same applies to all the other political parties offering manifestoes in which, inter alia, the Government's plans to partially privatise the state's energy companies were opposed.
It's simply not fair to aggregate the Greens' 11.6 per cent, NZ First's 6.5 per cent, the Maori Party's 1.4 per cent, Mana's 1 per cent and the Conservative Party's 2.6 per cent of the party vote with Labour's 27.4 per cent, to claim a minimum anti-asset sales bloc of 50.5 per cent. 
Opposition to asset sales was not deemed important enough to preclude a confidence and supply agreement between National and the Maori Party.
Nor would it have been had the Conservatives crossed the 5 per cent threshold.
National, of course, has no need to aggregate percentages for its partial privatisation programme as desperately as its opponents.
With 47.3 per cent of the party vote, the governing party came within an ace of securing an absolute majority of the votes cast.
It would have been an outstanding tally even under the old first-past-the-post electoral system, but coming within 2.8 per cent of an outright majority under our mixed-member-proportional system was close to miraculous.
Any political party racking up such a total is entitled to claim a very strong electoral mandate for all its policies.
National's claim to a specific mandate for its asset sales programme is, accordingly, very strong. The policy was announced nearly a year before the election and was subjected to the intense scrutiny of not only the parliamentary opposition, but also the news media and a broad cross-section of civil society.
The 2011 election was no 1980s or 1990s exercise in duplicity and fraud. The public understood that a vote for National was a vote to privatise 49 per cent of Solid Energy, Meridian, Genesis and Mighty River Power. Nearly half voted for the Government anyway.
If Prime Minister John Key's Government doesn't have a mandate to proceed with its privatisation policy, the word no longer has any political meaning.
New Zealand's representative system of government entrusts the administration of the nation to the political party, or parties, which alone or in combination command a majority in the House of Representatives.
National and its allies played by these rules and won. Their performance referendum is scheduled for 2014, and it's binding. 

Trotter is absolutely right. The 2011 General Election was fought, won and lost on the issue of asset sales. National leads a coalition government, having received its highest-ever MMP party vote. In contrast, Labour's party vote was its worst since the first MMP election in 1996.

And Chris Trotter is not the only leftie who is honest enough to admit that John Key has a mandate for partial privatisation. Back in September last year, Matt McCarten made this startling admission:

As Labour had run on an anti-privatisation platform, Key could legitimately claim, after his poll victory, that he had a mandate to sell.
The partial privatisation programme was the defining issue between the Government and the Opposition. 

There you have it. Two of the Left's heaviest hitters in the media accept that National has a mandate to proceed with the policies they set before the electorate in 2011. And neither McCarten nor Trotter are merely centre-Left; both are from the far reaches of the far Left, and vehemently opposed to anything a centre-Right government does.

Chris Trotter is honest enough and pragmatic enough to get it. A referendum on asset sales will be like pissing into the wind, and will achieve absolutely nothing. Re-litigating the 2011 General Election result is at best futile, and at worst undemocratic. John Key and his fellow MP's will stand or fall on their record when the country goes to the polls in late 2014, and not a moment before. All the posturing by Labour and the Greens has been just that; political posturing, accompanied by white noise, and the attitude of bad losers.


24 comments:

Goerge OTJ. said...

Trotter fails the logic test here:
"That only 27.4 per cent of the voters were prepared to back its flagship policy with their ballots strongly suggests that privatisation was not the electoral game-changer Labour's focus groups had suggested."

He shows only that the asset question wasn't enough to encourage more people to vote Labour. It does not show that the majority of New Zealanders support asset sales. Clearly, they do not, hence your fear.
Trotter continues to employ illogic with this:
"How, then, can the Greens argue that National's claim to a specific electoral mandate is illegitimate when their own policy pitch was so general? "
The Greens are not claiming that their pre-election policy pitch has validity that National's doesn't. They have made it very clear since the election and right up to this point, that they oppose the sales. Trotter fails yet again to think straight. He's taken you in though, KS. Quelle surprise.

George OTJ said...

" A referendum on asset sales will be like pissing into the wind, and will achieve absolutely nothing. Re-litigating the 2011 General Election result is at best futile, and at worst undemocratic."

What muddle-headed nonsense!
The 2011 General Election result didn't include a referendum on asset sales. It was for the purpose of voting for a Government. By your foolishly muddled argument, you are declaring that referenda are un-democratic! No surprise there, you're a Righty!

Keeping Stock said...

National's claim to a specific mandate for its asset sales programme is, accordingly, very strong. The policy was announced nearly a year before the election and was subjected to the intense scrutiny of not only the parliamentary opposition, but also the news media and a broad cross-section of civil society.
The 2011 election was no 1980s or 1990s exercise in duplicity and fraud. The public understood that a vote for National was a vote to privatise 49 per cent of Solid Energy, Meridian, Genesis and Mighty River Power. Nearly half voted for the Government anyway.
If Prime Minister John Key's Government doesn't have a mandate to proceed with its privatisation policy, the word no longer has any political meaning.


@ GotJ - this statement from Trotter pretty much sums things up.

Alex Coleman said...

It's all a bit silly really. the idea of specific mandates for individual policies makes no sense at all, so claiming one is nonsense. But if it's not a nonsense, you need to be consistent.

If this policy was the main thing the election was about, then it follows that you *can* actually tally up the votes of those opposed. It's the only way to test the existence of the mandate.

You can't have it both ways. Trotter wheedles around this by saying that the Māori Party signed a C&S agreement with National, but that cuts against the claim that asset sales were central. The Māori party, (if asset sales were the only thing that counts), didn't have a mandate to sign that agreement. But that would be silly.

Politics in general, and democracy in particular, doesn't end at the ballot box. The government has a mandate to govern, via it's C&S agreements that give it the confidence of the house. Without those agreements, they wouldn't be able to govern. They didn't, as a matter of fact, get enough votes to govern alone. But even if they did, that wouldn't wouldn't make opposing unpopular policy, via all the tools availlable, 'undemocratic'.

It's all in the game, and the government and its supporters need to harden up and sell the policy.

If they have a specific mandate, then that will be confirmed by the referendum. If the referendum goes the other way, that's part of the the political price they will pay for doing unpopular things.

Keeping Stock said...

I agree that the Government needs to do a better job in selling the policy Alex. But given the prominence to which opposition parties gave their opposition to asset sales, it was one of the most significant issues of the election. National signalled its intentions well in advance, and Labour spent tens of thousands on a Stop Asset Sales campaign; probably more. National has a mandate for three years to implement EVERY policy it campaigned on and won. Trotter sees that, but Labour and the Greens want to cherry-pick policies that have already been mandated. That's not how the game is played.

Alex Coleman said...

You're ignoring what I said KS.

Personally, I think claiming mandates for individual policies is usually nonsense.

But if you are going to do that, then you can't ignore the fact that National didn't actually get a majority.

They require a C&S agreement from the Māori Party right? That agreement is where their parliamentary mandate to govern stems from. Now if, as you and Trotter argue, this policy was the be all and end all of the election, then the Māori Party didn't have a mandate to sign that agreement.

Now I think that's a stupid position, but it follows logically from the idea you are promoting.

You can't have it both ways.

Random Punter said...

Alex Coleman: "Personally, I think claiming mandates for individual policies is usually nonsense."

David Lange wouldn't agree with you, Alex. Writing in 1986 about his government's "election promise to keep New Zealand free of nuclear weapons", he said: "This policy received the ultimate public endorsement of a General Election".

Keeping Stock said...

The Maori Party is a red herring Alex. Without their three votes, national/Act/UF still has a 61-60 numerical advantage as evidenced by the passage of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill.

Yuka Avestina said...

"You're ignoring what I said KS."

Welcome to Keeping Stock, Alex.

Your summation was very good, btw.
KS can't hear it but let's not be too hard on him, he's been deaf to logical argument for a very long time now.

KS, you are missing the point. The mandate to sell is going to be tested. The people are going to make clear what they want now. You say, the Government will ignore what the people say. You are championing dictatorship.
This is not admirable.

Keeping Stock said...

Far from ignoring Alex I'm actually engaging with him Yuka. But I'm also on my way to a wedding at the moment which is where my attention will rightly be this arvo and evening.

Anonymous said...

KS I brought the MP up because trotter was saying it's illegitimate to tally up the votes of received by parties who opposed the policy.

Now if the mandate is for the individual policy, and it is derivedd from the enorsement of voters, I can't see why tallying up the votes can be anything other than legitimate.

You calimed that it is somehow undemocratic to question the mandate for the policy. I'm confused about why it would be undemocratic to count the votes for and against what you allege was the central issue.

To get your individual 'explicit mandate' you have to not count some votes.

It's true that within out electoral system, those votes were not counted. But that 'not counting' is, if anything, an undemocratic quirk.

The fact is, as Yuka says, a referendum will give an explicit indication of what the people think.

As I've said all along, I think claims around individual policy mandates are usually silly. A government gets its mandate from parliament, both for C&S and for individual policies.

All the rest, on both sides, is politics. And that is legitimate. Politicians are entitled to use gain a mandate in parliament to do things. Other politicians are entitled to point out that the things they are doing are not popular.

The claim that this is not how the game is played, is contrary to the facts, and itself, undemocratic.

pdm said...

While the referendum is a waste of taxpayers time and money there is one way to put this issue totally to bed.

That is to vote in favour of the Mixed Ownership Model proposed by the National led government when the referendum eventually comes to fruition - if of course it ever does.

Don't let the borrow and spend lefties wear you down in this matter.

Forenzo said...

pdm is 100% correct. Let the referendum decide the issue.
Bring it on.

Edward the Confessor said...

Poor Trotter is unfortunately caught in a vicious circle. A while ago he ceased to be a relevant actor in the area of public discourse. He hasn't taken this well. His bitterness has led to his utterances being increasingly silly (hence his popularity with right-wing bloggers). This has compounded his irrelevancy and hence his bitterness and silliness. It's sad.

Karla Brean said...

KS, a question. Now that we are this far down the track with the sale of the energy companies, do you still believe it's a good idea?
With the passing of time, the whole proposal seems weak to me. Not a worthwhile exercise at all. Certainly not a good idea and we need a good idea now.
How do you feel about it at this point?

Elizabeth Bourchier said...

Trotter gets a significant mention in Cactus Kate's blog on the unhappiness in the Labour ranks with the direction of the current leadership.

http://asianinvasion2006.blogspot.co.nz/2013/01/labour-struggles-with-its-direction.html?m=1

Larnie Armstrong said...

Armstrong doesn't even mention the issue, so wrapped up is he in the other pitfalls that await National this year:

"A cursory reading of the polls might suggest nothing has changed in the past 12 months. Wrong. Everything has changed. And mainly to National's disadvantage.

Act is for all intents and purposes Parliament's Dodo. Extinction beckons.

The polls are now pointing to the possibility of a Labour-Greens coalition in charge post-2014.

National's saving grace as governing party is that it isn't hated. Not yet, anyway.

That is largely down to the Prime Minister. However, he cannot afford another year when at times it seemed the real John Key had been captured by aliens and a robot surrogate with several circuits gone AWOL had been sent down to Earth as a replacement.

The scene is thus set for a tantalising political year in 2013.

A Government which does not seem able to stem a never-ending plague of stuff-ups and distractions yet remains consumed by power is up against an Opposition hungry for power and really starting to get its act together. A real ding-dong battle of more or less equals is in prospect"

Doesn't look good, Keeping Stock.

Keeping Stock said...

A Government which does not seem able to stem a never-ending plague of stuff-ups and distractions yet remains consumed by power is up against an Opposition hungry for power and really starting to get its act together.

The Opposition getting its act together? Crikey; whatever Armstrong's been smoking, I want to get some!

Keeping Stock said...

@Karla - there are precious few blue-chip investments for New Zealand investors to invest their money onshore, and especially for large institutional investors such as Kiwisaver fund managers and the NZ Superannuation fund. And currently, I don't own any shares in anything, but I will certainly be investing in the energy SOE's.

As long as the Crown retains overall control of the SOE's, I have no problem with a minority share being sold. Contrast that to Labour's asset sales of the 1980's where entire assets were flogged off at far below fair market price. Compared to that, what the Government is proposing is moderate.

Alex Coleman said...

I'm starting to see why the government is bleating about the referendum rather than just explaining the merits of the policy.

Are you saying that there is nothing in the private sector that people want to invest in? That the only things worth investing in are those built by the government?

That's a woeful indictment on out business leaders is it not?

But if true, then I suppose it might make some sense that the investment capital should be handed over to the government in return for some shares. After all, it looks like the government really does know better what to do with it. But it's an interesting position for capitalists to be taking nonetheless.

And harking back to the 80s is an interesting approach, particularly the way you do it here. You read the treasury advice that came out before Xmas? That the market couldn't handle these sales so close together? that means if they go ahead they won't be maximising the price at all. ie It will be getting firesale prices.

Above and beyond that, the NZX will be dominated by power companies, some of which will have an implicit govt backing. Fund managers won't be going heavier into NZ energy stocks, ( or at least I haven't heard any reasons as to why they might), so in the medium term, guess what it means for the other co's on the NZX?

That's one of the reasons, I suspect, that we haven't seen much support from academic economists for the MOM idea, even those who would normally favour full privatisation. This isn't the second best option to privatisation for them, it's a dog's breakfast.

Colin C. said...

If you were a more flexible thinker, keeping Stock, you'd recognise that the asset sales deal has soured, it's not what it first seemed and is plagued by problems that look very, very disadvantageous to all concerned and in particular, the New Zealand taxpayer.
I urge you to look at the issue afresh and listen to the arguments from Treasury and other "neutral" institutions. They are NOT praising this scheme AT ALL.

Edwin Wigmore said...

I get the "sour grapes" impression from those refusing to acknowledge National's mandate.

Trotter is absolutely right that the majority voted for National after their policy was made very clear. Further, Trotter is completely correct that Labour ran a flagship policy of no asset sales. Only one in four votes went to them.

Case closed.

Edward the Confessor said...

"Trotter is absolutely right that the majority voted for National after their policy was made very clear."

Gee Edwin, if you can't even get basic facts right your argument isn't going to carry much weight. Go and look up the election results and the definition of majority. Typical Nat.

Keeping Stock said...

Edwin is quite right Edward (hopefully avoiding name confusion at this early hour). Since MMP was instituted after the 1993 referendum, no party has had a clear majority. But National increased its 2008 party vote percentage, even whilst campaigning on partial privatisation. Labour opposed "asset sales" with a dishonest and ironic campaign given that no party has ever sold more assets in dollar value than the Lange/Palmer/Moore Labour government of 1984-1990. And what happened? Labour recorded its lowest party vote ever.

John Key was able to form a government, and the moment he was able to do that, he had his mandate. He was able to pass the empowering legislation; that's how parliamentary democracy works.

Chris Trotter may be a relic of a bygone era of left-wing politics, betrayed as he was by the Rogernomes. But he is at least an honest relic, which is more than can be said for many on the political Left.

In the immortal words of Sir Michael Cullen: "We won; you lost; eat that!".